By Michelle Love

Photos by James and Rachel Culver

While some may shy away from a challenge, local artist Mara Jambor openly embraces them. The way she looks at it, challenges make things exciting and fun, a credo she sees applicable not just to life, but to art as well. 

“You have to have a challenge in life,” Mara says. “Otherwise, you just get bored.” 

Mara first jumped into the challenges of painting in 2014, when she found herself without a creative outlet after retiring.  

“I was doing video editing professionally, and for a while, that was my creative outlet,” she says. “I was using a program called Final Cut Pro, and the Final Cut Pro people for some reason decided to change it totally, so that my prior knowledge of it didn’t transfer over to the new program.”  

Finding herself at a loss for editing, Mara started looking for something to boost her creative streak. A friend of hers began posting paintings on Facebook, and this struck Mara’s interest. She asked the friend where she learned to paint, and her friend suggested a more relaxed method of art classes. 

“She suggested a lady who actually taught out of her home at night, and everyone would bring a bottle of wine and something to eat while they painted,” Mara explains. “I did that for about six months, and it was fun.”

Mara began liking how her paintings were evolving, and she decided she needed more direct instruction. She signed up for classes with local artist David Nichols. At first, Mara says she was nervous, approaching painting in a more formal learning setting.  

“I had this realization, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be painting Monday mornings in broad daylight with no wine,’” she says with a laugh. “It was very shaky ground for me, but I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot.” 

Through her classes, Mara started to find her own style of painting. It was at her classes with David Nichols where she painted her “Railroad Park at Dusk” painting, which now hangs in the UAB Hospital North Wing. She’s taken several different courses from different instructors to ensure she learns as many approaches to painting as possible.  

Over the years, she’s accumulated an impressive resume of work that never settles on one particular subject matter. While some artists may feel more drawn to say landscapes or portraits, Mara finds beauty and inspiration in everything from city-scapes, animals, all the way to still-life. Her website features several of her works on various topics, some more abstract than others, but her style is undeniable: she finds the beauty in everything. 

“I think part of why I paint everything is because I’m still trying to decide who I am as an artist,” she says. “I’ve only been painting since 2014. That’s not a lifetime. I never went to art school. I didn’t even know I could paint, so it’s kind of a pleasant surprise that I’m selling things, and I’m getting commissions.” 

Mara says she isn’t a fan of commissions because she sees them as stressful, but she takes them on because she loves a challenge. She says she just recently delivered three commissions to the Four Seasons Gallery. Don’t expect any of her paintings to be set in realism, however, as that’s one thing Mara refuses to aim for. Though she often paints from photos, she says she never wants her paintings to be flawless. 

“I don’t want to be a painter of realism,” Mara explains. “I want people to see my brush strokes and for it to be more loose or abstract. That to me is still a big challenge because there are times someone will look at my art, and they think it’s a compliment. They’ll go, ‘Oh, wow! That looks like a photograph,’ and that’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. Even these commissions I’ve painted, they look too realistic for my taste. I just want to be free to put down blocks of color and let it be more impressionistic. That’s still a challenge also. I want to paint all kinds of things and have it be more abstract.” 

Whenever she approaches a project, Mara makes special notice of how light and shadow play into the scenery. Strong shadows and light make a picture more vibrant and exciting, she says, so finding subject matter that plays into those two surrounding effects. If a photo or scenery doesn’t have strong light or shadow, she says she has trouble painting because her heart isn’t fully invested. 

Learning to appreciate the true value of shadow and light, however, isn’t something that happens overnight.  

“It takes time to learn what you’re looking at,” Mara explains. “The color and the value and the shadow—for example, all of us know how to draw a house or draw a face. You know for house you just do a square with a triangle on top, but that’s not what you really want to do. You have to fight against that because if you look closely, you have to look at the value of the shadows and the color. It’s a study in recognizing what’s in front of you.” 

Mara says when she is doing a portrait, she’ll actually turn the portrait upside down, so she can look at the shadows and colors from a different angle, presenting her brain with yet another challenge. 

One of her city-scape paintings, for example, is of two women walking in the rain. In the painting, Mara makes use of all surrounding influences that bring the piece to life. Mara was inspired to paint the scene when she was in Toronto taking care of an ailing aunt, and she went out into the rain for coffee and noticed how the light and shadows played off of each other on the street, the street lights and the reflections on the sidewalk.  

“I seem to be drawn to downtown things like I paint a lot of Railroad Park and the Alabama Theatre,” she says. “I’ve taken photos of people walking around in the rain or walking their dog across the street by those. I know there are people who are afraid to go downtown, and they’re missing so much of Birmingham’s beauty. Railroad Park is such a gem.” 

The journey in creating a piece is always rewarding, but she says her true joy comes from finishing a piece and finding satisfaction in the end result. 

“It’s very satisfying,” she says. “In the end, I paint my own edges, and I really enjoy it. For me, varnishing the painting and painting those edges is like the frosting on the cake.” 

She praises having the freedom as an artist to experiment with her own paint. A practice her former teachers have taught her along the way is to learn to repurpose her own art, in a manner of speaking.  

“When you have a painting that hasn’t sold or you’re tired of looking at it, don’t get rid of it, but instead turn it upside down or sideways and paint over it while letting those old colors peak through,” Mara explains. “You can get some really beautiful results doing that. It doesn’t always work, but now and then it does, and that’s so joyful.” 

Mara sells and displays her art at several art shows throughout the year, and you can find several of her pieces throughout Birmingham. She says it’s a joy to be able to see her work out in the world.  

“Look for classes close to you and take classes from somebody,” Mara says. “Don’t think you can’t do it. Just try something new, and spice up your life. You may find the thing you’re looking for can give you a whole new direction in life with lots of challenges and lots of fun.” 

For those who may be hesitant to pick up a paint brush, Mara says there should be no fear in trying something new. After all, challenges are what make life exciting.  

To view or purchase Mara’s artwork, visit