Motoring art: Keith Burns

| 9 Nov 2022
Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Keith Burns

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There’s no better medium than illustrating graphic novels to fine-tune your drawing skills, as Keith Burns has proved.

From the packed pages of comics, the challenge of a single canvas has been brilliantly embraced by this Irish master. As a result of his comic background, Burns’ paintings have a powerful tension.

This was demonstrated at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where he captivated visitors by producing a new composition featuring Ray Hanna’s legendary low-level 1998 Revival pitlane flypast in a Spitfire.

Burns enjoys painting live at events with High Revs and the Aces High Gallery.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Keith Burns
Keith Burns sketched these Ford GT40s while on a visit to Shelsley Walsh – Burns’ GCSE artwork also featured the legendary Ford sports-racer

Burns was born in Dublin and grew up with the aroma of oil paints because his father, a typesetter for The Irish Times, was a hobby artist who had a talent for horses but not figures.

When Burns was 14 his family moved to the Isle of Man, where he witnessed the TT races. “I’d always drawn, ever since I was a boy, but the Fine Art route at Birmingham was disillusioning after a tutor told me I couldn’t paint,” recalls Burns.

“I left art school, but it turned out to be a good thing because it meant I tried harder to prove him wrong.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Keith Burns
Burns’ homage to Bullitt was featured in Ex-Con comics

As well as building model kits, comic books were an early passion for Burns.

“The work of illustrators such as Kev Walker and Simon Bisley blew me away,” he explains. “A friend told me about a workshop with John McCrea and that set me off doing bits of weird illustration, but mostly for free.

“After several random jobs my partner and I saved enough to travel around the world. Just as we started out on a coast-to-coast road trip from LA, I got a call from friends in Hong Kong asking if I was interested in doing a comic.

“After our travel finished I ended up spending a year illustrating comic books in Hong Kong.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Keith Burns
The 1980s LA scenes from the Ex-Con comics also involved classic trucks and a Lamborghini Countach

The project really kick-started Burns’ career, including an exciting project with McRea titled The Boys.

“Initially I did the backgrounds and vehicles as well as the inking up, but it was an amazing education for capturing expressions and movement,” says Burns. “It really taught me the art of storytelling.”

The success of The Boys resulted in the Ex-Con, Johnny Red and Out of the Blue comic series: “Drawing 1980s Los Angeles for Ex-Con gave me a chance to include a Lamborghini Countach and all my favourite American trucks, which I was obsessed with as a kid.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Keith Burns
The Jersey Post Office commissioned Burns to create a Formula One stamp series, including Graham Hill’s Lotus 49, which has now evolved into a book

The reaction to his comic books eventually led to Burns branching out to painting commissions, both aviation and automotive.

“One of my heroes is Michael Turner,” he explains. “I couldn’t believe it when he presented me with Painting of the Year at the 2016 Guild of Aviation Artists exhibition.”

Burns’ versatility with subjects recently led to a commission from the Jersey Post Office, for a series of stamps celebrating the history of Formula One, and that in turn has evolved into a book project with journalist Joe Saward.

“I’ve always loved motorsport,” enthuses Burns. “My GCSE painting featured GT40s and I’d love to do a comic on Le Mans in the 1960s.”

For more, see or follow @keithburnsart on Instagram. The Birth of Formula One is available via


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