Artists’ life figures a treasured find

Penticton artist Jill Leir-Salter shows life figure watercolours for the first time.

Artist Jill Leir-Salter with two pieces of her work from the current exhibition at Tumbleweed Gallery at 452 Main Street. It is the first time the watercolour paintings have been on public display.

Artist Jill Leir-Salter with two pieces of her work from the current exhibition at Tumbleweed Gallery at 452 Main Street. It is the first time the watercolour paintings have been on public display.

Jill Leir-Salter is well-known for her landscapes, so when Tumbleweed Gallery owner Prema Harris came upon something different she knew it needed to be hung.

Stuffed in a drawer in Leir-Salter’s Kaleden studio, Harris found treasures of the 89-year-old artists work.

“I was determined to do watercolour figures that started with a pencil. I had to make sure I had the shadows and with water it is not easy because it is running all over the place and you have to control it,” said Leir-Salter.

Dozens of her life figures were uncovered from what she calls an “experiment” almost a decade ago. The artist said with landscapes, she usually starts with a sudden visual impact and that develops into a strong emotion that demands a challenge. The challenge is then life and food for the imagination.

Much is the same in the exercise of doing still life.

“I was determined to challenge myself by doing the figures in watercolour. Sometimes you would turn them over and use the other side of the paper to start over again,” said Leir-Salter. “There might be a surprise on the other side of some of these pieces.”

Some of the framed watercolours are for sale at the Tumbleweed Gallery, and a few are hanging at Kindrie Grove’s studio.

The artists true love is working in the open air. Leir-Salter was born and raised in Penticton as one of 11 children. Her family home, now known as the Leir House Cultural Centre, was at one time surrounded by 10 acres of pine trees and bunch grass.

Living so close to the natural environment left a strong impression on her as a child.

“I love space and seeing as far as the eye can see. I love clouds and I often feel as though I was inside a cloud,” she said.

Leir-Salter admitted she could never imagine seeing her work hanging in galleries or even selling for that matter.

“There was a sale one spring out in Naramata where people had their jams and jellies and I had a painting for sale. Someone bought it for $25, I thought gee I better do some more. I’m sure they were just sorry for me,” she joked.

As an adult, with six children of her own, Leir-Salter said she moved 12 times from across Canada to the U.K.

“Any place I moved to I would take in lessons. I suppose that helped in my art meeting all those different people and seeing all those different locations,” she said. “The Okanagan though is beautiful country to paint in because of the beautiful light. There is this vapour so the colours are pastel and fairly light. It makes you seem as though you are looking through it and you have to learn a lot about making your own colours instead of buying them. It makes you think and have to plan.”

Her schooling in Fine Arts also included two semesters at Okanagan College. Her paintings hang in many private collections, juried art shows, the B.C. Festival of the Arts and one of her pieces was selected to hang in the Parliament buildings in Ottawa in 2008.