Here’s a little project that we’ve been working on for a long time: a custom-painted leather flight jacket featuring the “Classic Lego Space” logo. (Yes, I totally spent years serving in the Lego Space Corps!) If you’ve ever wanted to make your own painted leather jacket — whatever the theme — here’s how to do it.

For this project we used Angelus leather paints, which are highly flexible acrylic paints from the Angelus Shoe Polish Company, designed specifically for painting items like shoes and jackets. We used black, metallic gold, white, and red paints, which are available in 1oz and 4oz (and sometimes larger) bottles. We ended up using less than ½oz of each paint color in this project.

Besides the paints, you’ll also need their “Leather Preparer and Deglazer” (for which some people simply substitute acetone), and a clear acrylic top-coat finisher. We also used a couple of different sized natural-hair paintbrushes.

The jacket is a “black current issue A-2” leather flight jacket from US Wings, an updated version of the iconic A-2 jacket, famously used by pilots in WWII and well known as the classic substrate for painted bomber jackets. We felt black best fit our outer-space theme. The “current issue” version of the jacket has the same extra pockets as current-issue military A-2s. Look for one with a solid, one-piece back, so that there aren’t any seam lines where you’ll be painting.

It’s certainly possible to start with a lower-cost jacket, or to get a used jacket for much less. However we are following a piece of advice that we learned from our friends in the art car community: If you’re going to invest the time in decorating a car, it’s a good idea to start with a new one so that it lasts longer and you have fewer maintenance issues.

The design is the “Classic Lego Space” logo, no longer in use but prominently featured in popular Lego sets like the Galaxy Explorer and on space-themed mini figures from 1978 to 1987.

If you look closely at the pictures of the Galaxy Explorer and mini figures, you might notice that there are actually two versions of the graphic from that era. One, found on larger bricks and flags, has a light-yellow moon with darker craters, while the other, found on small bricks and mini figures, has a metallic gold circle without craters. Since the design on the jacket is large, we went with the cratered version, but exercised a little artistic license to use light and dark metallic gold, rather than yellow, for the two colors.


Project Steps

Prepare the stencils

Create the design that you would like to apply to the jacket. For each color in your design, cut a stencil out of cardstock. You can use simple tools like a pencil and a hobby knife for this step, or take more of a high-tech approach. For our design, we used high-resolution pictures of Lego bricks to model the logo in Inkscape (inkscape.org), and laser-cut the cardstock stencils. You may find it helpful to use your cardstock cutouts as mock ups to see how they will look on the jacket in a variety of sizes and positions.

Prepare the substrate

Position the stencil for the base (lowest) layer of your painting where you want it to go on the jacket and gently fix it in place with blue painter’s tape. Place a board under the jacket back so that you have a smooth and flat workspace.

Use the leather preparer and deglazer solution to strip the shiny outer finish off of the leather inside the stencil. Doing a thorough job of this takes about 30 minutes of hard scrubbing with a washcloth, leaving the cloth thoroughly blackened and that area of the jacket still black, but with a matte finish.

CAUTION: Wear gloves for this step — you probably don’t need to strip the finish off of your fingers.

Paint a base layer

After the leather dries from the prep stage, it’s time to begin painting. Angelus recommends making the first layer thin and allowing it to dry thoroughly before adding the subsequent 2-3 layers necessary to reach full opacity. We used white for our base layer, even under the parts that will be red or gold in the final painting. The brush strokes are quite visible and the opacity is marginal with only a single layer.

This is the easiest layer of painting, because — with the exception of black areas like our little triangle — you can just paint over all of the areas that have that initial matte appearance.

Add color and opacity

Once the paint is dry, indicate where the red and gold should go by lightly scoring the white paint while tracing the pattern with a stencil. Using those (barely visible) marks as guides, paint the first layers of red and gold. The opacity should be noticeably improved in those areas. Let the paint dry for at least 30 minutes before doing the next layer, and alternate between adding more white and colored layers.

After four layers of white and three each in red and gold, our white and colored areas were well defined, bright, and distinct.

NOTE: Painting the interior curves to appear smooth takes a fair amount of time and steady hands.

Mixing custom colors

Our design called for light and dark metallic gold. However, Angelus only offers a single (but gorgeous) shade of metallic gold paint, which is alternately referred to as “Antique Gold” or just “Gold.” The good news is that you can custom mix your own paint colors. To make a darker gold paint, simply mix in a few drops of black.

For low-contrast accents like our craters — dark gold atop regular gold — a single layer of additional stencil-guided paint works well. Touch it up, as needed using both the lower and upper paint colors.

Apply clear finish

Allow the paints to dry overnight, and add the final top coat — a thin and colorless acrylic finish that dries clear. The finisher is available in five different luster levels, from matte to glossy. We used “Satin,” but found it to be glossier than the rest of the jacket, so we’d recommend “Flat Top,” listed as having the lowest sheen. Apply 2 coats of the finish and allow it to dry overnight.


And we're done!

A final word about the paints: These paints are (as advertised) incredibly flexible and well matched to leather. You can flex and fold the material, and the paint goes right along with it, flexing and folding as though it isn’t there at all. Neat stuff!

This project appeared in Make: Volume 39, page 70.