Born Without Use of Arms, Woman Paints With Mouth and Feet: 'I Am Not That Much Different'

Alana Tillman may have been born with a birth defect that doesn't allow the use of her hands, but that won't stop her from becoming a professional painter.

Alana Tillman has been making a name for herself in the art world since she was 5 years old, but unlike her contemporaries, she paints with her mouth and feet.

The 33-year-old Californian was born with arthrogryposis, a birth defect that leaves her without muscle use in her arms. She can’t move her hands and her fingers on her own, but she has not let that stop her.

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At 3 years old, Alana taught herself how to manipulate her crayons with her lips, tongue and teeth. By 5, she was teaching herself how to paint with her mouth.

Tillman said her parents realized that she was an artist quite young and would put crayons and markers in her mouth to draw.

“Painting and drawing came naturally by mouth due to the fact that was the only working tool I had. It's much like when a toddler learns to write their name in preschool with their hands I just used my mouth,” Alana told

As she grew up, Alana continued to paint as a hobby, but it also helped her get through some of her struggles. She had to have surgeries on her feet and elbow and was in a cast for months on both occasions.

“Drawing or painting was my go to. When I was little I had quite a few surgeries. With recovery drawing was the best thing to do because it distracted me from the pain,” Alana said.  

Tillman said she grew up with parents and an able-bodied, twin sister who never set boundaries for her and always encouraged her to persevere – and that she did.

By the time she was an adult, Alana became a full-time artist, beginning with sales through word of mouth, and in 2013 she became a member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, a world-wide organization, representing and publishing Art for mouth and foot painters all over the world.

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But, what she wants people to know is that she isn’t much different from anyone else.

“I’ve been able to adapt to everything that the able-bodied kid could do. The hardest thing is being perceived as different. I have spent my whole life trying to get people to see that I am an equal. I am not that much different I just do things in a different way.”

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