COLLEAGUES and students have paid tribute to an ‘inspirational’ art teacher.

Steve Pickles, set up the first art degree course in Blackburn, which has launched generations of talent from Blackburn College’s University Centre.

The college said its whole community was grieving the news that the 63-year-old, who taught in Blackburn for over 20 years, had died following a long illness.

As hundreds of people prepare to attend a memorial event next week, Blackburn Museum is also set to launch an exhibition of his work in the near future.

The retained firefighter started at the college in 1992 teaching drawing and painting, and working as a personal tutor.

He led on the development of a new BA (Hons) Fine Art programme with Lancaster University, which he wrote and continued to amend and improve until he became ill in June last year.

Blackburn artist and taxidermist Nicola Hebson said she had been shocked by the news.

She said: “He was my teacher for five years and he is the person who encouraged me to keep going with my art and to pursue my taxidermy.

“It is a shock because he was one of those people who are full of life and you just think they are going to live forever.

“He was amazing at keeping people calm. People would come into class all stressed about their work and he would just make everything seem really easy and straightforward.

“He was just a wonderful teacher and really inspirational to us all.”

Originally from Bradford, Steve moved to Blackburn when he took up the college post, starting at the same time as colleague Richard Peregrine.

He said: “I used to call him Peter Pan because he stayed so young. He moved and looked like a 25-year-old. It’s been hard for us all but what we remember is that he lived and breathed art and education.”

A memorial event for those who remember Steve will be held at Barzooka in Victoria Street, Blackburn from 5pm on Monday.