The Derek Riggs Interview: “How would you like your zombie?” part 1

Derek Riggs is the hands down first choice for the MBA Hall of Immortals. It seems really strange to have write an introduction for someone who created the most recognizable character in all of metal. His artwork is burned in your brain, on your shirts and probably on your walls. He has created some of the most complex album covers of all time with precision and a painterly flair. MBA is proud to present part 1 of the Derek Riggs interview & check out part 2 as well…

How did you get your first paying art job?
I took my portfolio of paintings around to all the record company art directors that I could find. Back in the 1970′s that wasn’t very hard, there were only about five or six main record companies. Not like today where there are hundreds of them. I could cover most of the ground quite quickly. These days I have no idea how an artist would get to all the record companies, a lot of them don’t even have art directors any more… so they don’t have any trained professionals working there who know what to look out for.

I went into EMI and they were doing a series of Jazz albums and I got to do the covers because they wanted a complete look for the series. But then the Jazz musicians started complaining about having paintings on their covers because they thought it was too commercial and they didn’t want to “sell out” so the idea was dropped. (and they didn’t sell out, they didn’t sell anything…)

There is a lot more on this subject in the art book “Run For Cover, the art of Derek Riggs” which is available from my website you can buy both signed and unsigned versions.

Who are your artistic influences?
I don’t really have any influences. There are some artists that I like but I can’t really say that they have been influences on my style or anything. I paint the ideas inside my head and I paint in a way that makes sense to me. I have no formal training. the artists that I like most are Jack Kirby, Max Ernst, John Martin, Roger Dean, Salvador Dali, Bruce Pennington there are others but I can’t think of their names right now. I like these artists not because they have influenced me directly but because they seemed to be interested in similar things to me, they seem to be going in something like the same direction. It was interesting to me to see that other people were doing something like what I wanted to do and to see how they handled those problems. (I say problems because painting a picture is a long series of problem solving)

What words best describe your artistic style?
Messy, Random, obsessive, accidental, I don’t seem to have a very consistent style. It seems to vary a great deal from one picture to another. Sometimes I start a picture and I seem to know exactly what to do. Other times I feel like a monkey slapping paint around and things just don’t really go very well. Maybe I have a multiple personality and only one of us knows how to paint… :)

Tell us about your studio space?
It’s square. I work mostly on computers these days so it’s a room with a computer in it. It’s not full of kids toys or any old cliches like that. I don’t get inspired by things like that. It’s just me and a computer in a room. Stuff comes straight out of my head into the computer. Not very interesting I am afraid.

I didn’t even used to have a proper studio until recently, I used to paint in the corner of my bedroom. All through the Maiden years I painted in the corner of one bedroom or another. I did have a studio for about two years, about the time I did “Somewhere in Time” But then I moved into another place and it was back to being in the corner of my bedroom. Since I have been in the USA I have had space for a proper studio. That’s about four years.

Take us through a typical day for Derek Riggs?
On a good day I wake up. I potter around. I eat stuff. I go shopping. Sometimes I go out for coffee and sit in the sunshine. Later on in the evening I start painting (If I have any work to do) sometime later I go to bed. I usually start work about six in the evening and maybe work till midnight or even right through the night till morning. If I were to work earlier than that I would not see any daylight because I work with the blinds or curtains shut, too much variation in light interferes with the look of the monitor (colours and such)

How do you create your work? Take us through the process from concept to final.
Actually it’s never the same twice in a row. Each picture is different and I have to approach it in a slightly different way. People sometimes have ideas, sometimes not. Both have their own set of problems. The ones with ideas can never seem to express exactly what they really want and tend to babble a lot. The ones with no ideas, well, I end up doing loads of sketches for them and they are never pleased with anything. Then they all come at me with huge lists of “Details” for the picture, which is usually a big list of words that don’t mean anything to anyone else. They don’t even have an idea for a descent picture yet, but they have all these fucking little bits they want me to somehow shove in there. it kind of gets old… A CD cover is only 5 inches Sq for fuck’s sake.

anyway, if I manage to talk them into using a descent image and they like the sketch, then I just start making bits for it inside the computer. When I have enough bits I put them together into an image.

When it’s finished, sometimes they like it, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I can change some of it around. Once in a while I get someone who wants a lot of sketches and they say things like “ooh, it’s as if you are reading our mind, it’s just what we want” and then when it’s finished they say “it’s not what we were expecting” but it looks just like the sketch, you can map one onto the other exactly. The truth is that they changed their minds and don’t want to admit it incase I charge them again for a second picture, so they try to blame me for it.

I have been turning down most of the commissions I have been offered recently because, for the most part they have just been shit ideas. Fucking nasty stuff I don’t want anything to do with. Or just stupid, boring ideas. Or it’s just been copies of the old Maiden stuff that they want. The Heavy Metal covers thing has come down to “How would you like your zombie?” actually the entire “commission for CD covers” thing is getting real old, I am taking on less and less CD covers.

Come back in a couple days for part 2 of the Derek Riggs Interview. He gives advice to all artists and talks about the end of the line with Iron Maiden. Also, check MBA tomorrow for a look at  some of his non-Maiden related artwork. Visit his site: to check out all of his work and order the book: The Art of Derek Riggs.

About Vertebrae33

Through hard work and dedication, Vertebrae33 has established himself as one of the most prolific and exciting illustrators on the scene today.  He has received much acclaim as of late for his innovative designs, attention to detail, and wholly unique, raw style.