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‘Get out of this stinkin’ thinkin’: B.C. mouth-painter finds purpose in art

Campbell River woman pulls herself up from life-changing fall with paintbrush clenched in her teeth
Shawna Magnusson has surrounded herself with delightfully colourful paintings of her own creation. Photo by Ronan O’Doherty/Campbell River Mirror

In March of 2018, Shawna Magnusson had a nightmare of a morning.

While walking across her living room floor to let her puppy out, Magnusson blacked out, and woke up staring at her ceiling. She couldn’t move her arms and legs, and had to yell for her husband Kris to come check on her.

Realizing something was direly wrong, he called the paramedics.

Magnusson was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Vancouver where she was to spend the next few months of her life. As a result of the accident, which broke her neck, Magnusson became a quadriplegic.

“I remember telling my husband that I feel like I’m a bump,” she said.” I can’t do anything. I can’t even scratch my own itch on my nose if I wanted to.”

He told her to keep her hopes up, and insisted he wouldn’t leave her side.

“So of course that made me cry,” Magnusson said.

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While learning how to exist in her new reality at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver, she used to pass by an art studio in the facility. One day she took a peak inside.

Magnusson had always been interested in crafting. She’d used socks and clothes pegs to make artsy items for around the house, and had recently started experimenting with pyrography (wood burning).

A lady within showed her a beautiful painting of a fox.

“It was so lifelike,” Magnusson said. “It looked like the fox was going to leap out of the picture.”

She was told the artist had painted the crafty animal using only her mouth.

“Shut the font door!” she recalls saying. “That’s amazing.”

Within minutes Magnusson had a brush in her mouth and was painting a cherry blossom. Over the course of two weeks of jaw-aching work, she added buds and a branch to the flower, and painted the background blue, before signing it. Her husband insisted on keeping the work.

“He said, ‘When you become a famous artist, I can say I got the original one,’ and I looked at him and smiled,” Magnusson recalled.

Shortly after, she painted a lighthouse which hangs within a frame in a central place in her room at Evergreen Seniors Home. It’s joined by dozens of other paintings that cover all the walls in brilliant colour. There are even a few in the bathroom.

New ideas for paintings are always coming to her.

“Sometimes I think about where I’ve been, or where I’d like to be,” she said. “Or sometimes, I’m just trying to think of something to calm me. Because I like to get away from my negative thoughts –get away from feeling like a bump.”

From time-to-time she says she feel like the rugs been pulled out from under her.

“And then I have to stop and count my blessings, as my auntie Debbie would say. When I get done counting them, I look at my wall and say, ‘Shut up, Shawna, get out of this stinkin’ thinkin’.”

The staff at Evergreen Seniors Home have been buying up her work, Magnusson noted, so she’s painting often to keep up with demand.

“It’s like I can’t get them done fast enough,” she said. “Peope are biting!”

To view Shawna Magnusson’s work, and possibly buy their own painting, art lovers can visit

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