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Painter with Multiple Sclerosis uses mouth to create stunning artwork

Sara May has been painting with her mouth since 2013.

TAMPA, Fla. — Sara May draws a crowd when she paints. Her artwork is stunning and eye-catching – almost as much as the method she uses to create it.

“I just like the way the colors pop,” she said, brushing bright red acrylic paint onto canvas board. The brush dangled from her lips as she painted a near-perfect straight line.

“I was diagnosed with [Multiple Sclerosis] in 2005,” she explained. 

“I had some numbing and tingling in my legs and within four years I wasn’t able to walk so I went on, I filed for full disability and within four months, I got the disability.”

Within four years of that diagnosis, she was unable to use her arms and legs. She lost her job, her family – and her ability to do the things she loved to do.

"It was very devastating. I was in a very, very sad, lonely place,” she said of her life before painting. 

“It just gave me life to be able to paint. Before then I had nothing to do. I felt like I wasn’t worthy to do anything.”

But, her passion for paint was revived after a conversation with a friend at the University of Tampa.

“It gave me hope.”

She began painting in 2013 as a way to pass the time. She used her mouth to hold the paintbrush and patiently learned the proper ways to manipulate the brush with her lips to create amazing portraits and landscapes.

Within a few weeks, her work was entered in art shows.

Her specialty is outdoor scenes. Her website shows off her finished pieces. She has painted everything from boats and homes to fruit and animals. The amazing works are made even more incredible when you think about the fact they were all done using nothing but her mouth.

“It’s amazing to me that I can even do it,” May said.

She received a three-year, $75,000 grant from MFPA. Her worked from the grant was turned into greeting cards. She has sold pieces from $70 to $300. Her next goal is to get her work featured in an art gallery.

“I just think you don’t give up. You have to keep fighting,” she said. “We’re all here for a reason.”

May’s next art show is the Suncoast Art Festival at the Wiregrass Mall January 18. Long-term, She hopes to one day start a series of art therapy classes for fellow quadriplegics.

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