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Driven by a passion for painting

Story by Judi Collins, published in the September/October 2021 issue of Lakelife magazine.


Gail Vail: Winner of Lake Oconee People's Choice Award 2021

Successful artist. Writer. Publisher. Book Illustrator. Teacher. Gail Vail is a woman driven by a passion for drawing and painting with oils, watercolors, acrylics, and inks. And that passion has led her down a winding road to become this year’s winner of the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Lake Country Juried Art Show. It is a well-deserved honor for a talented artist who touches the lives of other aspiring artists and serves as a guiding force to help make Georgia’s Lake Country an arts destination.

Gail Vail and her painting, Poised, which won the 2021 People's Choice Award at the Lake Oconee Juried Art Show.

Meet Gail Vail

When the Nebraska native retired from a thirty-year career in human resources and marketing and moved to Lake Oconee in 2003, she had only one thing on her “must do” list: Pursue her lifelong passion for art.

Vail admits she could never resist the urge to pick up a pencil or a brush. “It is a compulsion impossible to explain, except as a type of escape,” says Vail. “I started drawing as a child, painted my first oil painting in the sixth grade, and continued to paint until I took a break to earn a B.A. Degree in Business from Kennesaw State University while pursuing a career and raising a family. When I was once again finally able to return to painting, it was like the light was turned on again.”

“I paint what moves me.”

Notes Vail, “Art is my way to make emotional connections in a world that can be disconnected. And with emotional connection as my focus, that inspiration illuminates my final paintings. The play of light, dramatic shadows and the confluence of color and light create the emotion of the subject. That intrigues me. I capture life’s simple moments in my art. And I love the overwhelming feeling of fulfillment when I am satisfied with a completed painting.”

While largely self-taught, Vail has studied under numerous professional artists. Included are notables like Greta Schelke, John Poon and Jim Richards. John Singer Sargent is her favorite professional painter. And artists who use a painterly style, less defined strokes and an impressionist approach influence her most.

Not just one painting style

Gail says her paintings “run the gamut from impressionism to realism, and include abstracts, animal portraits, birds, still life, flowers and landscapes.”

Dog portraits are her favorite. “I try to capture the dog’s personality, especially the eyes and face,” she notes. “Often, I paint the eyes first — so the dog can watch me paint the rest of him,” she quips. “Painting dogs and birds require many paint layers. The texture of fur and feathers is critical, and the right paint brush helps build fine textures,” she continues. “I recently painted a peacock in snow. It was very challenging, but the result is fascinating due to the contrast. For my abstract paintings, I enjoy the challenge of playing with gesso and modeling paste.”

Vail’s paintings are in collections in Lake Oconee area homes as well as many U.S. states, Canada and Japan. Also, she contracts for commissioned abstract paintings with interior design studio clients.

“Eureka moment” becomes an obsession

A renowned artist, Vail’s work is featured in seven published books, including the cover art on four.

“Several years ago, I had an unplanned ‘eureka moment’ as I listened to poems and stories written by members of a Lake Oconee writers’ club. With each writing, I could envision a painting by a fellow artist. It became my passion to publish a small coffee table book pairing writings with paintings. No small task…it became an obsession!” Gail says.

She formatted the book by seasons, and the resulting Seasons on Lake Oconee was published and well received. Vail subsequently collaborated with local author, the late George Heiring, to publish two more coffee table books, The Seasonal Heart and Turning Leaves.

Teaching is a passion, too

In 2003, Gail Vail hit the ground running to help develop art support organizations and venues for local artists. She quickly became involved as a guild officer, coordinated art events and, eventually, by request started teaching.

An artist willing to share her knowledge, Vail takes delight in seeing her students progress through the learning process. “To see my students’ excitement when they master a concept, or a brushstroke, a complex color mix or other challenging painting skills gives me joy and deep satisfaction,” she says.

In another form of teaching, Vail is also a popular public speaker who presents lectures on different art mediums, proper ways to frame various mediums, and other related topics.

Quick to respond in time of need

And yet, with all on her plate today, when Vail learns another artist needs her help, she is quick to respond. But that is not new. That has always been her style.

This writer knows one example from years ago when Vail helped a beginning artist — a total stranger. The artist needed a frame to exhibit art in a show Vail was curating. With the time crunch of the show’s deadline and opening night heavy upon her, the very busy curator paused in her work, invited the unknown artist to her home, took down a framed painting from her wall, and replaced her own art with the stranger’s beginning watercolor painting. She did all this to provide the inexperienced artist an opportunity to participate in her first exhibit. Like many other artists who have benefitted from Vail’s generosity, this beginning artist was encouraged and grew to become more accomplished.

And today, as we celebrate Vail winning the Peoples’ Choice Award, this same artist she helped so long ago — now Lakelife magazine’s art feature story writer — smiles with joy for Gail Vail’s most recent success. Well done, Gail Vail.

Contact Gail Vail at or


See Gail Vail Art art at:

The Artisans Village Art Gallery, Eatonton.

Dress the Walls/Art of Oconee,

Lake Oconee. Fishtales,

Lake Oconee Genuine Georgia, Greensboro.


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