There can’t be many people who look at a scrappy piece of lino with a hole in it where a toilet plinth once sat, and thought: 'I can use that'. Yet that is exactly what Saltburn-born artist Ian Burke did when he was forging his artistic career.

Having been brought up in Redcar, Ian was destined to work in one of Teesside’s heavy industries. He’d actually started out as an apprentice metal fitter before his mother persuaded him to take his ‘A’ levels, much to the fury of his father who was away at sea at the time. It was then that Ian discovered his love of art.

Great British Life: Artist Ian Burke is spending his retirement in Staithes supporting artists, students and teachers from his base at Staithes Gallery. (c) Ian BurkeArtist Ian Burke is spending his retirement in Staithes supporting artists, students and teachers from his base at Staithes Gallery. (c) Ian Burke

'My Dad, an oil rig worker, was pretty disgruntled at first that his son wanted to be an artist,' he recalls. 'I couldn’t afford a studio or painting equipment and so I turned to traditional printmaking, scouring skips for pieces of old lino and wood that I could use to make the printing blocks.

'In fact I used the toilet floor lino to make a carving of the Redcar beach tractors that I included in my portfolio to gain a place at Goldsmiths Art College in London.'

He might have spent decades working away but Ian, who went into art teaching after leaving Goldsmiths, including a spell at Rugby School and 20 years as Eton College’s Drawing Master, has never deserted his roots.

He did once toy with the idea of moving to Suffolk or Cornwall. However the reaction from locals down there convinced him he’d get a warmer response from those living in Staithes where his North East dialect, together with the fact that his uncle once owned the Captain Cook Inn, gave him an advantage.

Great British Life: See artists at work during the festival. (c) VisitBritain/VisitEnglandSee artists at work during the festival. (c) VisitBritain/VisitEngland

And so, having bought a cottage in Staithes, he began the lengthy commute, spending the weekdays teaching in Windsor before retreating back to the coast for the weekend.

He explains: 'It felt like you were a bit of a missionary, helping to spread the word that it wasn’t all grim up North. As well as using locations in the North York Moors National Park and Teesside as subjects to illustrate drawing techniques, we organised a number of art trips for pupils where we showed them Tees and Redcar beach, warts and all, and they loved it!'

Having moved from Staithes out to a converted mill near Lealholm he continued working at Eton. During lockdown he held lessons via Zoom and found that the North York Moors was a classroom offering plenty of teaching inspiration – whether it was farmers mowing hay or noticing foxgloves coming into flower.

Since retiring from Eton in December 2021, he’s now throwing himself into the Yorkshire and North East arts scene, both with his printmaking and a growing interest in painting, particularly gardens. He now rents Staithes Gallery with his wife Susan Sharrard and is determined it will continue to be a valuable supporter of local artists. Ian also uses the gallery as a second studio to the one he has at home, spending quieter periods in the winter creating the blocks for his printmaking.

Great British Life: Buskers in Staithes. Tony Bartholomew (c) NYMNPABuskers in Staithes. Tony Bartholomew (c) NYMNPA

While his work has once again featured in this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Ian is also focused on more regional galleries and art events, including the Staithes Festival of Art and Heritage this September.

'It’s fantastic to see the Festival coming back,” he says. “It’s hugely important for bringing people together and celebrating the village’s art heritage as well as shining a light on the wealth of North East artistic talent.'

He’s also keen on giving something back to the local community by offering to coach teachers in art or holding workshops for students.

'Particularly as there’s less focus on creative subjects in schools, I’m really interested in utilising my teaching skills, even if it’s for free,' he comments.

After all these years, there’s no sign of him exhausting the sources of inspiration provided by the North York Moors and Teesside:

'The more you look, the more you find,' he says. 'Whether it’s delving into the archive of Victorian photographic portraits taken by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe or finding an array of different discarded bricks on the edge of the fantastic beach at Skinningrove.'

It is also testament to Ian’s influence as an unofficial North East ambassador that his former pupils still visit. Just last year four former Etonians visited to refresh their art skills – one was a political researcher in Westminster, another in the army, the third was a music promoter while the fourth was an ecological economist.

Not bad then, for a working class boy from Teesside.

The Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage runs from 15-17 September

Great British Life: Let there be lights - Staithes festival's glorious night trail. (c) VisitBritainLet there be lights - Staithes festival's glorious night trail. (c) VisitBritain

This year’s festival, which is supported by the North York Moors National Park, retains all the elements that made the event such a success in the past, including 100+ pop-up galleries in the cottages and the cobbled streets and along the harbour front.

Alongside the galleries, the events programme includes a session with TV auctioneer Caroline Hawley who will look back at her career while also putting a valuation on festival-goers' antiques; and a workshop by entertaining printmaker Sean Starwars flying in from Mississippi.

Leading archaeologist Steve Sherlock will be sharing how he discovered the Neolithic Saltworks on the cliffs above Staithes; while visitors will also be able to learn what’s happening below ground with a talk on the scientific quest to discover Dark Matter in the lab at Boulby Mine.

There’s plenty of entertainment too, including a Saturday evening in the company of renowned comic, poet and musician John Hegley, plus a variety of street music, whether it’s jazz provided by the Zak Parlby Quartet or the Men of Staithes fisherman’s choir.

As night falls, there’s the added spectacle of seeing the surrounding cliffs illuminated, sculptures lit up and a heritage light trail winding its way from the harbour and along the beach.

The Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage is free to attend; some events will be ticketed. For further information go to Staithes Festival - Arts and Heritage Festival on the Yorkshire Coast.