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VIDEO: Carnoustie artist Gary’s drawing scooped up by National Museum for Walter Scott exhibition

Carnoustie artist Gary Burley has made history, with his latest pen-and-ink illustration, ‘Ivanhoe’, being picked up for display in the National Museum of Scotland’s Inspiring Walter Scott exhibition – the first addition to the collection in more than 50 years.

Gary, who started out as a dishwasher in the 1980s, has studied art for more than 30 years.

Now, a lockdown passion project has brought him his first exhibition, in one of the most famous museums in Scotland.

Back in 2017, Gary hit headlines for his fully illustrated copy of his favourite novel, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, which took him 27 years to craft from start to finish.

This year, Gary took inspiration from another famous novel – his father’s favourite, Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott.

Ivanhoe pen and ink illustration by Gary Burley. Supplied by Gary Burley.

“When I was a kid, my dad had a 150-year-old book on Ivanhoe,” Gary explains. “It was his favourite, and this book had amazing pictures in it.

“I’ve got three major books I want to work with. One was my granddad’s favourite, one was my dad’s favourite, and one was my favourite – which was 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.

“Now I’ve my dad’s favourite, which is Ivanhoe, but I just did the cover and a big poster rather than the full book.”

Inspired by the drawings in his dad’s book and the carvings on the Sir Walter Scott monument in Edinburgh, Gary spent three months researching, planning and creating the drawing.

‘I was like defusing a bomb’

“It took a month to do all the research, and then it took another month to do,” he explains.

“Because the picture’s so large, I had to draw the horses and the knights separately and place them over one another on a lightbox.”

But for pen-and-ink artist Gary, the final hurdle was the most challenging – putting in the permanent ink.

Illustrator Gary Burley at his work station. Picture: Mhairi Edwards/DCT Media.

“The thing that was really scary was the last month when I put it all together into one drawing,” he laughs. “Because you know, with that much work, I have to get it right first time when I ink it in. And the inking in was so scary, every single minute of that picture you could screw it up.

“It was like defusing a bomb!”

Museum ‘delighted’ by artwork

In a twist of fate, Gary’s passion project coincided with the Sir Walter Scott 250th anniversary memorial exhibition at Edinburgh’s Nation Museum, Inspiring Walter Scott. 

On a long shot, Gary sent along details of his illustration to the principal curator, Anna Groundwater.

“I saw that they were doing a 250th anniversary last year of Ivanhoe, just by chance,” he says. “And they jumped on it straight away.”

Now, Gary’s drawing is encased in a main display at the exhibition, along with 16th Century weaponry and a 200-year-old etching.

Gary, back right, with his family at the unveiling of his drawing in its case. Supplied by Gary Burley.

“The main centre case is the one with my picture in, along with a quote from the book, which I didn’t know, because I actually haven’t fully read the book!” laughs Gary humbly.

“But it perfectly matches the picture.”

The Scott Monument in Edinburgh has carved figures of the writer’s famous characters, including Ivanhoe, far right. Picture: Shutterstock.

National Museums Scotland welcomed the illustration, with a spokesperson saying: “We were delighted when Gary contacted us to tell us about his Ivanhoe artwork, and we’re very pleased with how the reproduction of it looks in our current display, Inspiring Walter Scott.

“The display is all about how real historical objects inspired Scott in his fiction, and so it’s really nice to think that they have also inspired this piece of art.”

Inspiring Walter Scott is running in Exhibition Gallery Four of National Museums Scotland until January 9 2022. Entry is free.