Cranes mate for life and represent healing, longevity, and peace.

Sun Prairie-based artist Gail McCoy was going through a tough time in her life several years ago when she noticed three cranes kept appearing in her yard.

“I took it as an omen, that life was going to get better,” McCoy says.

Searching for an artistic outlet in retirement, McCoy now produces and sells about 300 contemporary collage a year from her East Sun Prairie studio, each piece prominently featuring a moon and crane within it.

After teaching in Oconomowoc for 10 years, becoming a stay-at-home mom, and teaching first grade in Columbus for 22 years, McCoy knew she wanted to do something with art in retirement.

“I took a watercolor class about six years ago,” she says. “But it seemed like there were lots of flowers or landscapes. I had to find my voice.”

A collage class spoke to her.

“I made some abstracts and sold them at an art fair. They all sold, so I thought I must be doing something right,” McCoy says.

McCoy’s process is unique.

She starts by reviewing National Geographic magazines (only issues printed between 2000-2010 work well) and marks pages that speak to her. She removes article ink (“lifts”) with natural citrus solvent spray and after the spray has dried, she’ll arrange the pages on a canvas to create the landscape background.

On regular trips to Florida, she finishes the magazine process, since Florida humidity lifts the print off the page and helps her prepare the paper for lying it on the canvas.

When asked whether the non-removable headlines of the print affect her vision for the piece, she says no.

“I call them ‘sweet spots’,” she explains. “And clients seem to like the active part of the ink, too.

One client said, ‘I looked at my piece today and I found a cat.’ There’s always something to see you have not seen before.”

McCoy has a systematic way of doing things. With National Geographic issues, prior to 2000, they’ve been sitting around for too long, and the ink can’t be lifted.

“And In 2011, they changed their ink formula,” she explains, “and it’s not as easy to lift off.”

McCoy has about 500 magazines in her possession – obtained through word-of-mouth.

After the canvas is ready, a white stylized crane, created from the white margins of the magazines is added, Gail will always paint in a moon, and she accents the landscape with bits of acid-free tissue paper, which harden with the art’s coating. A hanger is added to the back.

Managing her time, she may work on up to 10 pieces of art in between the drying stages.

After McCoy’s original success selling the abstracts, she was working an art fair in Door County when she was approached by a gallery owner.

“At an art show, a gentleman came up and said he was a gallery owner (Chad Luberger, Plum Bottom Pottery & Gallery). I originally declined, saying I wanted to stick with art shows, but he came back later in the day and made his case.”

McCoy says the opportunity has been “huge” for her work, and over 100 of her pieces are sold there each year. McCoy’s work is also sold at the Naples Art Museum Gift Shop in Florida. Her art is displayed locally at UW Hospitals and Clinics at The American Center, The Spa in Sun Prairie, Epic Systems in Verona, and other locations.

For the first few years, McCoy did up to five- nine art shows each summer. Her husband, Ken, sets up the tent and takes it down. They’ve been doing art shows together for five years.

Although she is doing fewer shows this year, “for life balance,” she’s working as hard as ever to bring the beauty of cranes to life.

To learn more, visit McCoy’s website,, follow the Gail McCoy Art Facebook page, or visit her booth at Art Fair Off the Square July 13-14. She will also take appointments via email at McCoy will have a solo exhibit at the Sun Prairie Library July 1-Sept. 30.

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