Artist With Paraplegia Uses His Mouth To Paint Hawaii's Vivid Colors On Canvas

03/17/2015 10:52 am ET | Updated Mar 17, 2015

One of the more demoralizing times of Moses Hamilton's life was when he tried to paint in early 2003.

He was participating in an art program at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific in Hawaii. A teacher was trying to show a group of people with disabilities how to paint with their mouths.

Hamilton -- who was 26 years old and recovering from a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down -- was given a mouthpiece attached to a paintbrush. He struggled to stroke it over the canvas.

"I was in recovery, but I was still mentally distraught," he told The Huffington Post. "That first painting actually brought me down. It was so hard to do anything with my mouth [that] I told myself I couldn't do this."

Hamilton gave up. When he left the art program, the teacher gave him some mouthpieces so he could try again later.

"Hey, you never know," he said the teacher told him.

"Maybe, but maybe not," Hamilton replied.

'Freedom On The Canvas'

Today, Hamilton has created more than 200 paintings, which he sells on his website Now 39 years old, he tries to paint four to five days a week for at least four hours a day. On average, according to Kauai news site The Garden Island, it takes him 25 hours to finish an 11-by-14 painting.

(Story continues below)
napali moon

He says it took "patience, practice, perseverance and a lot of passion" -- what he calls, "the P's of painting" -- to get to his level of skill. It also took time to convince himself it was worth giving art another try.

It was over a year after his move back to his home island of Kauai before he picked up the mouthpieces to try painting once more.

"It started off as a hobby, then it snowballed," he said. "I was getting better and gaining more confidence."

He learned to hold the paintbrush steady, and he began using colors inspired by the islands. Painting outdoors became one of his favorite things to do. Eventually, people took interest in his work, and he began selling it.

Now, Hamilton says, "painting soothes my soul."

"It sets me free from being in a wheelchair," he told HuffPost. "I might not be moving my body, but I am moving something on the page. I’m creating my own moments, freedom on the canvas."

(Story continues below)
painting outside

Hamilton can often be found painting in the outdoor plaza of the Ching Young Shopping Center near Hanalei Beach. It's his favorite place to paint and talk with curious passersby.

Hamilton uses watercolor and acrylic to paint Kauai's beaches at sunrise, sunset and moonrise. He also paints the beach's perfect curling waves, relying on his memories of riding the surf to bring the swells to life.

He paints portraits of the culture and people of the Hawaiian islands -- Native Hawaiians in traditional garb, Filipino fieldworkers, women in kimonos and hula dancers. He uses intricate patterns and vivid colors. He once called his artistic style, "exaggerated impressionism," according to Honolulu's MidWeek.

Hamilton wants his art to expand. He wants to try new mediums and new textures. But for now, he's content selling his art ("half the fun is being able to share it," he says) and enjoying the beauty of his life on Kauai.

"The islands are more than just a physical experience," he said. "The feeling is all bright; it's golden, it's a tropical feeling. We're living under a rainbow. I live in a place filled with magic and colors."

(Story continues below)

Ego-Crushing And Humbling

Before his accident, Hamilton surfed big waves, lived an active lifestyle and worked at various hotels and restaurants. In his own mind, he was a superstar -- a "big, strong man," he says.

Now, he can barely shake his arms. He can use his right arm to push his wheelchair, but he can't move his fingers, feed himself or grab things. He admits his life now is tough; he relies on his parents for basic movements. He said he takes a lot of deep breaths to release the frustration he feels when he thinks of "all the things I don't have anymore -- the opportunity to surf and have a more normal life."

"It’s been a very humbling experience; kind of ego-crushing," he said. "I've had to learn to let go of ... that exciting life that I lived before. Now my life is quiet, simple, but it's a good life, too."

Inspiration, he says, isn't hard to come by, but he has to remind himself to live with an "attitude of gratitude."

"Happiness isn't handed to you," he said. "It takes work to be happy. You've got to find it and find your own way in life."

"It’s definitely a daily lesson in letting go," he adds, "in being calm and accepting the fate I have."

Below, see Hamilton's vibrant creations bring the Hawaiian islands to life.

fire on mountain

moon and mountains


rainbow sky

If you'd like to purchase prints or originals of Moses Hamilton's work, visit his website at and follow him on Facebook.

Also on HuffPost:

Hawaii In Photos
Suggest a correction