To see Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel, you look up. To see a masterpiece by Geary "Rasta" Taylor, you look down.
Taylor, 40, of Clearwater, paints shoes. He's painted the New York City skyline on sneakers and the Beatles on sandals. Sports logos, cartoon characters, national flags — Taylor paints it all. Women bring dresses to Taylor and ask him to mimic the fabric pattern in a pair of heels. Former Buccaneer Mike Alstott ordered Bucs-themed shoes for his father and son.
Taylor has always sold his work. At age 5, he drew pictures of houses in his neighborhood and sold them to the owners. His parents then put him in art classes. In college, he majored in P.E. and minored in art. He went on to work various jobs, jonesing to do art full time and be his own boss.
"There's nothing like when you know you have the talent to do something and you're sitting around wondering, 'When am I going to take that leap?' " Taylor said.
Seven years ago, Taylor quit his sales job and got serious about an art career. From 2007 to 2008, he ran an art store in Tyrone Square Mall called Rasta Customs. He painted all sorts of items. Then a friend asked Taylor to customize some shoes.
To date, Taylor has painted more than 600 pairs.
Just last week, Taylor signed a lease for 1 of 1 Customs, his new gallery in downtown St. Petersburg. There, he and his protege Jesse Kiebzak will display and paint a variety of creations, including shoes.
It takes between one and 15 hours to paint each pair. Taylor starts by rubbing the footwear with an acetone-soaked cotton ball to remove the shoe's weatherproof coating. Sometimes he outlines his design in pencil. Other times, he paints freehand, guided by the shoe's stitching. Even using special leather paint Taylor buys online, each shoe requires at least four coats of paint. He seals his work with waterproof acrylic gloss. And he's never made a mistake he couldn't fix.
Taylor's customers keep coming up with ideas for him to paint. Yankees sandals for a bride. Red Sox sneakers for the groom. R.I.P. and In Memory Of sneakers. Baby shoes.
When Aiyana, 15, and Taj, 12, wear their dad's designs to school, their feet get more attention than what's on the chalkboard. Taylor has a soft spot for designing children's shoes. He's done birthday parties and led workshops teaching homeless kids to paint shoes for the first day of school.
"Shoes, to some people, are the most important part of your outfit," Taylor said. "It's what really breaks people's necks. It's the unique piece. Everybody loves a good pair of shoes."