Every time John Sharrock paints an image of Santa, it's practically a self-portrait. Snowy white beard? Check. Blue eyes that twinkle behind a pair of spectacles? Check, check. He's even got the whole spreading Christmas cheer thing down, albeit with a twist. Instead of handing out toys to good little girls and boys, Sharrock swipes a paintbrush to raise Christmas spirits.
Santa Claus holding baby Jesus' hand, a snowman with a pizza, dancing penguins in the snow.
Storefront windows across Tampa Bay display his creations. Each image is custom and unique, roughly sketched with chalk then transformed to color with waterproof paint.
Clean lines and cartoonlike characters evoke an old-fashioned charm. There's no technology, nothing to plug in. Just a view for customers and employees to enjoy.
It has been that way since Sharrock started in 1968.
And, like Santa, he just keeps getting busier.
This year, Sharrock's client lists filled eight pages of a notebook, front and back. He started painting the holiday displays in October and won't wrap them up until this week.
"I love Christmas," Sharrock said. "I go 'Ho ho ho' all the way to the bank."
Luckily, he has help.
Sharrock has been training his wife of 33 years, Jo Sharrock, and one of his seven children, 19-year-old Autumn Rose Sharrock, for the past few years.
For now, his daughter mostly helps get the paint and outline the letters, but someday Sharrock said he hopes she will see his career as a safety net she can fall back on during tough times.
Sharrock discovered his talent with a paintbrush while still in high school. His father, who was in the carnival business, let Sharrock test out his painting skills on a popcorn vending trailer.
Sharrock painted and repainted the trailer almost 100 times in his efforts to improve, he said. Yet that didn't convince his father it would make a great career.
"He told me that artists don't make any money until they've been dead for 20 years," Sharrock said. "So I decided I wasn't going to be an artist, I would be a sign painter, and so far it's worked out."
This marks the third year Sharrock painted the windows of Gem Dry Cleaners in Riverview. Santa Claus kneeling before a baby Jesus along with the words "the greatest gift" and "the reason for the season" will adorn the windows through the new year.
"We don't have to be politically correct," said owner Netty Miller. "There's no 'happy holidays' here."
Also appealing to businesses and their customers, is the traditional aspect of Sharrock's work.
"We get so many compliments from our customers," Miller said. "People are ready for old-fashioned. It brings out that warm-fuzzy-feely Christmas."
At Chris' Plumbing Service in Riverview, Sharrock painted something a little more lighthearted: a snowman holding a plunger.
It's a simple way to "let people know we are not your average business, that we are in the holiday spirit," said Joanne Hoffman, who owns the plumbing business.
And customers, especially those used to seeing snow, seem to like it, she said.
"It's more of what you would see up North," Hoffman said. "Down here, it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit without cold weather."
And one of the best parts? After the holidays, it all comes off. Sharrock's elves — teenagers he hires — scrape the artwork off for an additional fee.
"This stuff doesn't cost that much, so customers don't mind losing it, and they get to show their holiday spirit," Sharrock said.
Sharrock's designs start at $45 for a message such as "Merry Christmas" and one figure.
When Christmas isn't around the corner, Sharrock still paints many of the same windows, just with different messages.
"Same-day service," adorns some of the windows at Gem Dry Cleaners. Sports bars, restaurants and any place trying to catch the attention of busy passers-by hire Sharrock year-round.
A daredevil since his youth, Sharrock also rides a motorcycle in the carnival attraction Wall of Death, where motorcyclists race inside a spherical cage.
And lest Sharrock's looks and holiday occupation fool someone into really thinking he's Santa, just ask him about his favorite thing to paint:
"The women's bodies at Fantasy Fest."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@ tampabay.com or (813) 661-2442.