For visual artist Cécile Girard, living in the Yukon has been a catalyst for personal and artistic growth.

“When I first came here, I lived in a wall tent, listened to the ravens in the morning and played the guitar,” she recalls with a smile.

Initially she billed herself as a freelance artist, working on small projects here and there. Eventually, in 1983, she joined on with the French community newspaper, l’Aurore boréale, and has since been the director for over two decades.

Now, as she dodges the strong sunshine pouring through the blinds in her office, she says friends of hers in Montréal can’t believe she’s preparing to open a solo show of her paintings while holding down a full-time job.

“This is what is so special about this place – you come with a dream and suddenly you realize it became possible,” Girard says with a smirk.

While she’s participated in group exhibitions before, Girard says she jumped at the opportunity to have her own showcase of work at Arts Underground. And it ended up revitalizing her adoration for creating art.

“I’ve never gotten involved so much like I did this time, for this exhibition,” she explains. “I work full-time and the challenge is to stimulate yourself to produce work. So that’s why I applied for a spot.”

Working entirely in oil, Girard’s show, The World According To Cécile, brings together landscape and portrait paintings.

“It’s almost like renewing my vows, my love, for the Yukon,” she says.

Girard’s landscapes are deep with colour and carry an impressionistic aesthetic. Strong brush strokes and playful hues, in the forest trees and skies, form a soft image with hints of detail.

“I never saw the reason why artists painted landscapes. I just thought, Well, take a darn picture and forget about it,” she explains with a laugh.

“When I did these ones, I was surprised by the joy it brought me and the fun I had. Changing the colour of the sky … you can take all the liberties you want. I think it’s really something that grows on you.”

As for her portraits, drawing people has been a long-time fascination for the artist.

The paintings border on realism mixed with a hint of illustrative style. Girard employs some gradients and shading, but mostly relies on bold colours to bring her subjects to life.

She explains that one piece reflects a face she just couldn’t shake.

“I saw a gypsy singer on television – a lady that was singing beautifully. Her image stayed with me,” Girard says.

“She was just a beautiful, big woman with lots of jewellery. Flamboyant, I would say, with an amazing voice. She stayed in my head, but I got her out finally.”

Part of Girard’s craft is about getting scenes, people and all sorts of images out of her and onto paper or canvas. But at times, she admits, it’s not easy.

“I spend a lot of time waiting for inspiration. You work all week long and then Saturday morning I’m sitting in my studio just with nothing happening,” she says, taking a sip of tea.

“I have to feel the place.

“Basically, my exhibition is about places I really love. And sometimes it can be somewhere really simple. There are places that are so extraordinary here, and it’s not even Tombstone, Kluane or Kathleen Lake.

“Everybody knows that those places are fantastic, but it’s other places that mark me.”

Girard’s connection to art was nurtured through her studies in design at the Université du Québec and has expanded to include painting, ink, papier-mâché and crayon works. And while she says she’s unsure if she will continue to seek out more exhibition opportunities, she is certain she’ll continue to create.

“I always will. I always have something in my head that I need to get out. It’s therapeutic.”

The World According to Cécile is on display at Arts Underground until June 24.