Mouth Painter Sheds Light On A Lesser Known Community Of Artists

Alana Tillman was born without the use of her arms, but that didn't stop her from making a living off her art.

Alana Tillman drives her car, washes her dishes, and brushes her teeth all using her feet. She also uses them—along with her mouth—to make beautiful works of art

The 33-year-old started painting around the age of five. But even then, she was without the use of her arms or hands. Tillman was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that can lock joints in place and inhibit muscle development. Tillman's elbow joints and shoulders are both locked, preventing her from lifting or straightening her arms.

"I had to figure out how to draw my name in kindergarten or pre-school, so it was just the logical thing to put some type of utensil in my mouth," Tillman told A Plus. "Even before I started school I was already writing and drawing with a pen or a pencil." 

Growing up with an able-bodied twin, Tillman was fortunate enough to have the support of a peer as well as her family.

"We had a really creative household and my dad is an architect," Tillman said. "So drawing and being creative was always really encouraged." 

As Tillman moved through grade school, she was able to make friends with her art. People would ask her to draw pictures for them even though she was just a kid, and in all likelihood they were amazed not just by her unique way of creating them, but by the beautiful results. 

"I felt like this was a gift from God and I should try to share it with other people," Tillman said. "As I got older I realized that it was a career, too." 

Tillman describes her work as an intersection between abstract, impressionism, and urban art. As you can see in the piece above, she enjoys letting her paint run its natural course. Asked about her inspiration, names like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Warhol, and Picasso all spring to her mind. 

Alana Tillman
Alana Tillman

Based in Northern California's wine country, Tillman's surroundings visibly inspire her work. 

While Tillman wants to be known for the quality of her paintings and not just for how she makes them, she belongs to a global community of artists with disabilities. One of the leading organizations in this community is Mouth & Foot Painting Artists (MFPA). Founded in 1956, MFPA supports artists with disabilities — arising from birth defects or accidents — all over the world, helping them meet financial demands so they can focus on their work. 

And it's a good thing, too. Without them, we may not have access to more beautiful works like these.

If you'd like to see more of Tillman's work, you can check out her portfolio here. She sells her paintings and does custom work as well.