The long hallway of Cooksey Communications’ Irving headquarters functions like a gallery. Meticulously framed watercolors—mostly beautiful scenery and images of the outdoors—hang in a neat row, as far as the eye can see. Similarly temperate paintings adorn the walls of conference rooms, supply rooms, and employee offices. Gail Cooksey, who founded the strategic relations firm in 1994, painted every single one.
Cooksey wasn’t always an artist, but she has always been curious. She studied journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and has since taken a variety of continuing education classes, including Japanese. Twelve years ago, she signed up for a watercolor painting class at North Lake College, not far from her office. Thanks to her teacher, Arthur Guerra, Cooksey was hooked. Not only did she love the way watercolor looked, but she had also found a stress-free escape in the time and concentration that painting required.
“What is so challenging to me is for that amount of time, I’m not in charge,” Cooksey says. “I’m in charge around here. But when you’re doing watercolor, you’re not in charge of watercolor. It is in charge. I have to be so focused that I’m not worrying about anything else.”
Cooksey took classes at North Lake once a week for many years. She joined the watercolor societies of Dallas and Fort Worth, and converted a spare bedroom into a studio. Now she reads books on technique and attends three-, four-, and five-day workshops, where she purchases at least one piece from the instructor. Her next workshop will take place in Cornwall, England, so it’s “part painting, part vacation.”
Much of her inspiration comes from her travels. She snaps photographs of stunning locales to work from once she’s back home—but she never paints people. And Cooksey doesn’t sell her own work; she gives away her florals and street scenes as gifts to friends and family, and she creates an annual calendar with images of her favorite paintings that she gives to clients. She donates artwork to charities and has exhibited in galleries beyond the walls of her office, but is very careful to maintain her painting as something she does entirely for herself.
“You just look at the world a little bit differently when you start to paint,” she says.