Armless artist goes viral

YouTube channel gives artist publicity

 Tisha Shelton, better known for her YouTube channel name, Tisha UnArmed, shows the world that her disability does not stop her from living her life like anyone else.

Shelton is an armless 25-year-old artist who has been looking for a job as a graphic designer since she got her associate degree at St. Louis Community College last year. She was born without her arms as well as a shorter right leg, and she paints using her feet.

She was recently featured on MSN, Yahoo News, Inside Edition, CNN, Fox 2 News, and Huffington Post because of her channel, which has received millions of views since its creation Aug. 16. Shelton came to the SIU campus Friday to be featured on WSIU.

Shelton said graphic design has a tough job market.

Rajvee Subramanian | Provided Photo

“(Employment services) have been really good at helping me find a job,” Shelton said, “But it doesn’t matter how many applications I send out or resumes or cover letters or even my portfolio; I just wasn’t getting the calls.”

She said she made her YouTube channel to show potential employers  she can do anything anyone else can do. She said she has always used her feet for whatever she has done including driving, painting and dressing.

“I started off making a video about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and it went viral,” Shelton said.

Shelton said she was unsure if she could make it financially as an artist, so she needed a backup plan. She said she originally started off with architecture, but it was too mechanical for her and she wanted to do something more creative.

“It just turned out that graphic design was the best fit for me, and I love doing it,” she said.

Shelton moved to St. Louis from Jordan when she was 12. She said her parents acknowledged the opportunities she could only receive in the United States and sent her  to live with her grandmother in St. Louis so she could receive an American education and opportunities that were unavailable to her in Jordan.

Shelton said she started drawing at a very young age, but she didn’t paint until around her sophomore year in high school when she took a painting class.

“It just came natural to me that painting is like drawing, but with a different medium,” she said.

Shelton said she started off painting landscapes because they were the easiest and she liked the contrasts in color.

Her paintings were also featured in the Golden Woman Art Show in St. Louis after a man approached her when he saw her doodling, Shelton said.

“I think he just wanted to feature my work because I had no arms and was a woman, but when I actually turned in some of my art, he was like, ‘Wow, these are better than what I expected them to be,’” she said.

Shelton said it was a fun opportunity that helped her to network and show off her art for the first time.

She said art will always be something she will have in her life.

“It is therapeutic,” Shelton said. “Everyone has their down days and when I have my down days, I can go to my little art studio and tune out the world and just focus on one particular painting or drawing, and create something that makes me feel good.”

Shelton is a member of the International Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, which she described as an organization that helps disabled artists get established. She said it has been a great organization to help her develop her skills and get her noticed.

The association pays artists who work with either their mouth or feet to have the copyrights to their paintings, Shelton said. Painters send the association five to 10 paintings a year, and it makes the prints into Christmas cards, posters, puzzles, and calendars for purchase.

“All of that money goes back to the artist,” Shelton said. “It has helped a lot of people globally. I am really glad I found them.”

She said she is surprised at her videos’ popularity and is comfortable with questions concerning how she does basic everyday tasks with her disability.

“Not having arms or being disabled gives me a little more of an advantage (as an artist) because people will be impressed that I can paint with my feet,” Shelton said.

Her YouTube channel has been a different way of networking, she said, and has helped her communicate that she is as functioning as anyone else.

“Now, between last night and today, I have been getting all kinds of calls from potential employers trying to get me to work for them,” Shelton said. “So now I get to pick who I want to work for.”

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