Vickie McMillan-Hayes


As a wildlife conservation artist, Vickie McMillan-Hayes is closely attuned to the cycles in life, the metamorphoses and the evolutions, the ebb and flow of the seasons. To speak of her current life metaphorically, Vickie is perhaps in the late summer or early fall, in a period when she is extremely active, tending to the explosive growth all around her and reaping the rewards of early plantings. Yet her life has balance, as she shifts back and forth between her quiet time alone in the studio creating art and her interactions with others through her collaborative events and outreach programs. It is a full and rewarding season in her life, dedicated, as she likes to say, to “changing lives one painting at a time.”

Vickie has followed her vocation as an artist since she was a small child. A pre-K class at the YMCA alerted her parents to Vickie’s talent for art, which they supported throughout the rest of her childhood. Some years later, after graduating from the University of North Texas where she studied both graphic design and painting (even convincing the dean to award her a degree in watercolor—a first at the university), Vickie felt called to Africa to do missionary work. Naturally, she took her art materials with her. She can still recall the pivotal moment, the swing into a new season of her life, that happened there. “I started painting en plein air out in the wilds,” she explains, “and it made me come alive. I felt at that moment a pressing desire—an overwhelming urge that couldn’t be denied! to articulate through the use of brush and art all of the beautiful textures, colors, and details of the environment. I wanted to tell the story of my experience through my work.” Her passion for wildlife art was unleashed, but as it has turned out, that was only the beginning.

In the years since discovering her desire to paint animals and nature, Vickie has blossomed into a true wildlife conservation artist. As such, she is driven to paint accurate wildlife paintings for others to better understand their responsibility to protect endangered wildlife and their habitats. The process behind her conservation-inspired art begins with collecting reference material with her camera. She’s made many trips to African nations, other countries, and throughout the United States to photograph animals, the environment, and more.

Today, Vickie’s mission to “change lives one painting at a time” makes for a busy life of giving back to the community, and in her case, her “community” encompasses Texas, the U.S., and far beyond. One of the projects closest to Vickie’s heart is the ongoing series of collaborative paintings she’s done with countless organizations. A collaborative typically entails Vickie designing a painting, then setting up a painting station and inviting anywhere from six to 3,000 people—all associated with the sponsoring organization—to try their hand at painting. Each person makes one or more strokes, all contributing to the finished piece. It’s a hands-on experience that enables Vickie to change people’s perceptions about art in a life-altering way. “People are often a little intimidated to try art, and many people I’ve worked with have worried that they’re going to ruin the painting,” she says, “but then the lightbulb comes on, and I can see the awareness in their eyes. It’s amazing!” Through these efforts, Vickie generously donates her time and talent to support agencies that help disadvantaged, disabled, and impoverished people and raise funds to support art scholarships for kids in Texas and around the world.

Vickie’s award-winning paintings have been exhibited in both art museums and fine art galleries throughout the country and abroad. Fittingly, many of the regional and international exhibitions she has participated in have promoted wildlife conservation and endangered species and raised public consciousness of the urgent need to move towards environmental sustainability. Her paintings are included in museum, corporate, and private collections, and have been published in well-known magazines, articles, and reviews both locally and internationally. Her accurate yet stylistic paintings and award-winning photography are in demand among discriminating collectors of fine art.

Among the many accolades Vickie has received for her work, she has twice been named Artist of the Year by Safari Club International-Houston. And in three separate years, Vickie was chosen to represent District 15, The Woodlands with a hand-painted ornament for the state capitol. This prestigious designation is reserved for only a handful of premier artists who win the respect of a sophisticated constituency of art enthusiasts and wildlife conservationists.

Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects to all of this—and a true testament to Vickie’s tenacity and perseverance—is the fact that she has a disability called Essential Tremors that has progressively worsened over the years. E.T. is the opposite of Parkinson’s, causing her muscles to be overly active and sometimes hard to control when in use. It makes painting quite challenging, and she has developed her unique style of impasto impressionism over time as a way to compensate for the lack of control in her limbs. “When it comes to painting detail,” she notes, “I have to hold my breath and pull both arms tight against my chest while bracing my painting hand.” Despite her disability, she continues to paint. She says that it was a choice to abandon the realism she thought she should embrace and allow God to direct the path of her art. “I believe that my decision to persevere has given me many opportunities to encourage and inspire others to reach their full potential, rather than allowing obstacles or tragedy to overwhelm their lives.”

Artwork to be Showcased