(WGN) - Thousands of people order the holiday cards Mariam Paré paints, but few know her backstory is as incredible as the art she creates.
For as long as she could remember, she was surrounded by color; paint tubes and brushes stacked high in every corner. At 20, she was one of the top art students at Benedictine College of DuPage - until the night her life was changed in an instant.
"I just saw the glass break, and my hands dropped off the steering wheel," Paré told WGN.
A stray bullet from a spray of gunfire on the street outside pierced through her car, and went directly into her spine.
"They told me I was paralyzed, a quadriplegic. I wouldn't walk, use my hands or even feed myself," she said.
The talented artist was robbed of nearly everything, including the one thing she loved the most.
"I knew I could no longer paint," Paré said.
But months later, Paré started to question that assumption as she recovered in a Chicago rehab clinic.
When a therapist asked her to put a pen in her mouth to write her signature, it hit Paré that if she could recreate her signature, she could probably paint that way as well.
Fast forward 20 years later, and Mariam Paré's mouth painting work is now one of the most recognized in the country.
"I love painting portraits and landscapes, but in the last few years I started making art based on my experience of being a victim of gun violence," she said. "It not only helps me understand myself, but also allows me to visually explain my experience to others."
She supports herself with the works sold in galleries, along with the holiday cards she designs every year.
Through the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, dozens of other artists make a living through the sale of greeting cards. The sales go directly towards supporting them and their ability to continue doing what they love.
"It's not just the pride of making a living as an artist, but the extra meaning behind each card. Every one has a story of an artist like myself behind it," Paré said.
Today, Mariam Paré's world is surrounded in color once again.
"I learned that art doesn't have to come from your hand. It comes from within," she said.