For the past two years, Dutty Dario has been busy making a name for himself hand-painting anime and cartoon characters onto sneakers, clothing, and other items. Whether it’s Pokémon on Nikes or Dragon Ball Z on a tee, Dutty knows what it takes to give something new life.
Born and raised in Montreal, he got into the scene organically, putting together a design for a friend. Soon enough, word of mouth started to spread and he realized there wasn’t just a growing market for sneaker customs in the city, but names ranging from Roy Woods to KILLY to Jae and Trey Richards of 4YE were interested in his work.
Following the success Dutty Dario had in 2020, we spoke with the artist to discuss his creative process, the state of Montreal’s sneaker scene, and what it’s like working with some of Canada’s biggest names.
What are your thoughts on Montreal’s sneaker scene?
The sneaker scene is pretty developed in Montreal. We attract large events like Sneaker Con for re-selling. The scene in that regard is pretty strong. When it comes to customization, not many other artists were doing it with me when I started. But since then, more and more people from Montreal would reach out and say, "I saw your work and have started painting shoes as well." Everybody has a desire to customize things they own and, especially in Montreal, I think I’ve helped start that wave. At first it was very individualistic, where everyone was trying to do their own thing, but over the years it’s become more collaborative with brands working with each other and promoting each other. There’s a lot of support in the sneaker and streetwear community, which is nice to see.
How does your creative process work, from a client approaching you to completion?
When I started doing it, I didn’t have much of a system in place. There was a lot of DM conversations I was having with each client. I specialize in anime and cartoon characters. That’s the art style I like to put out so they generally come with a show or character and I’ll try to find images that will look cool on a shoe. I’ll pitch those to them and they’ll pick the ones they like. The longest aspect is finding those images because some work better than others. Then I’ll create a mockup on Photoshop that will show how the shoe’s going to look when it’s painted, so they know exactly how it’s going to look.
You’ve worked with some amazing people.
Working with celebrity clients happened the same as getting into the business. Things progress very rapidly and a lot of the artists I worked with are in the same network or group of friends. I worked with Ramriddlz. He's an artist from Toronto. I attended one of his concerts around the time I started and got a picture with him after. I’d started doing customs and thought there’s no way he’d let me paint anything for him, but I shot him a DM and to my surprise he actually answered. We did a lot of work from that point on with sneakers and every time he’d post and tag me it led to other opportunities. I thought if I managed to get him there’s a good chance I could land Roy Woods, KILLY, and all these other guys I managed to land.
You’re just getting into food art as well. What started that?
I don’t like to be labelled. I get the label sneaker artist but I like to push the envelope as much as possible. Food art’s an underrated art form. Not many people are doing it but I figured there’s more than one way to paint a portrait. It provides a reaction from my followers which I like. They see food differently now. I saw someone who made a portrait out of M&M’s and that inspired the idea.
You've also used your work to raise money for both the Black Lives Matter movement and the Lebanese Red Cross.
Using my platform to either raise awareness or raise funds, or generate an outreach is super important for me. Those are two fundraisers that happened recently where I managed to get something done and in place to generate funds. I’ll always try to find a way to help out. If I don’t have time to make merchandise, which is generally how I generate funds for donation, I’ll run a raffle where people have to pay $10 for a chance to win a custom. The raffle is what I did for the Black Lives Matter movement and for Lebanon I did a sale of merchandise.
What’s next for you? Anything we can look forward to?
Definitely stuff for 2021. I’m planning more fundraisers and would eventually like to get into hosting an event, if COVID allows. Some way to join the Montreal communities together around the fundraiser. In the same regard, a pop-up shop is something I’m planning for next year. Just for one day of the year, rent out a space and have my art on the wall or merchandise for sale. A portion of the sales will again be donated or help communities in Montreal or abroad. I also have an opportunity to do an art exhibition in Montreal, but that will be mainly focused on canvas pieces.