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Derek Riggs Interview
Derek, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview for Ytsejam.com. Most of our readers will recognize your work from the album covers of the bands Gamma Ray, Stratovarious Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden. Can you tell us a little about how you prepare to go into a project like this? Do they tell you what they want or do they let you come up with the idea?
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Usually there is some kind of brief, mostly it's just an initial idea and the designing of it is left up to me, that is, I send ideas to the artist and they say which bits they like and what to leave out. Sometimes the artist has a very clear idea of what they want and they will send me a layout to work from. the Stradivarius album "infinity" is a good example of this. Timo sent me a very detailed layout of what he wanted and I worked from that, adding a few ideas as they came to me (we did discuss them before I put them in.) The next album I did for them, "Intermission" was at the other extreme, it was a compilation album of their past work and they had no idea what would work so I suggested the bits from previous albums made into a new picture and then added the angel and the eclipse.
What were you doing before hooking up with Iron Maiden and what was it like having your work on the early Maiden albums?
I was working as a freelance illustrator doing album covers with several different record labels, an assortment of musical styles, from disco to jazz. I did some weird surreal thing and some sci-fi type pictures and a couple of portraits. I did do a couple of book covers but they weren't very good. I am not really cut out to be a Science Fiction Illustrator, my style and interests don't really go in that direction. I tend to get a bit strange and the market for sci-fi is more conservative (believe it or not) they mostly (exclusively actually) want spaceships and monsters. A bit ironic really considering what I ended up painting.
The artwork for the Iron Maiden single "Sanctuary" caused a bit of controversy. Did the band get all flack for it or did you catch some of it too?
The "flack" for that single (margaret Thatcher being knifed by Eddie, from the song lyric "[I've] never killed a woman before but I know how it feels"--lovely state of mind...) was invented by the band's management. they "banned" it and they put the black square over her face and then they showed it to the press and cried "censorship" but there really wasn't any. the flack was all imaginary and self generated for publicity. It's an old trick and it nearly always sells records...go and ask all the rappers who swear on their records all the time, if it depressed the record sales they would soon stop doing it.
Were you doing artwork exclusively for Iron Maiden in the early 80's or did you have other projects, and if so what were they?
I was under contract just to work for Maiden during that period.
As the Maiden album covers progressed, how did your style progress?
I have never had a constant style. my style fluctuates from painting to painting. I can't even draw three pictures in pen and ink and have them all come out in the same style. this has been a major drawback in my attempt to find work. the art editors never knew what I was going to come up with. sometimes I would paint something and it would work, other times the same kind of thing just wouldn't look right. I am getting better as I get older but the same thing persists to some degree. I have always tended to experiment a lot, both with imagery and with materials...not always with good results. For the single "twilight Zone" (a ghostly Eddie floating behind a woman looking in a mirror...he is visible only in the reflection.) I brought some new drawing board and when I came to put the paint onto it, it slid around like it was on grease-proof paper. I didn't have any of the good board left and I couldn't get any more because it was sunday and the shops were closed and the artwork had to be finished by monday morning, so I had no choice but to patch it up with an airbrush and call it finished. (most of the early works were done in a single weekend...they would phone me up on thursday night and say "We need it by Monday morning". so I would do it in two and a half days. this was the case right up to the Number of the Beast [an Iron Maiden album]...a picture I did in two days for the single but it got used as the album cover. this ridiculous time constraint is the main reason why a lot of the figure work in those pictures is a bit rough. (not very good)
On the Iron Maiden album 'Fear of the Dark' they decided to use another artist for the first time. Did you submit art for this Album or were you not even commissioned? How did you feel at the time. How do you feel about the artwork on "Fear of the Dark"?
on this album they just kept changing their mind about everything. they would ask me for sketches about vampires, so I would go away and do sketches of vampires. then I would show them to the manager and he would say "why are you drawing vampires, we are into werewolves now" , and I would say "thanks for telling me" and so it went...every time I did anything they would just throw it back at me and say "that's not what we want any more...we want this now" so in the end I just got sick of all the bullshit and stopped working. as it turns out they were giving all the ideas to several other artists as well because they thought anyone could paint Eddie. So when I stopped working the only picture they had that was usable was an unfinished picture of Eddie as a tree...which is what they used. I think the real problem was that my artwork was getting more attention than the band really liked and they thought they would see if they could use other artists instead.
The majority of your early work is drawn, but you have made the transition to art software. Can you tell us what the catalyst for the transition was?
My artwork was NEVER drawn, it was painted in gouche, acrylic and Alkyd paints on illustration board. I moved over to computer based illustration because it is a better medium for producing commercial illustration. painting with a stick is better than painting with your fingers. painting with a brush is better than using a stick, computer is better than using a brush. it is the only way to get the work done in the time allowed to the quality required. I have never painted because I like using paint, I paint because I want to make an image. it is the image which is paramount not the painting technique. using a computer is the best method currently available for making an image. All this is true for commercial illustration only, for other mediums you must make other choices.
What software do you prefer and for what types of work?
I work in bits, I render all the modes separately and put then together with bits of photography and illustration at the end, this give me more scope to move things about-but you have to be careful with the lighting, make sure it is all from the right direction. I use the following software:
Bryce- for rendering and some modeling
Inspire 3D- for modeling mostly and some rendering
Strata 3D- for modeling and rendering
Illustrator- for line work
Photoshop- for putting all the bits together and also for photomontage and illustrating. Photoshop is the best for this-do not believe the hype on the boxes of the other packages.
Do you prefer working by hand or the computer? Do you still draw?
for illustrating I prefer the computer. I also paint some abstract pictures, for this I prefer paint, oil is nice but anything will do
More recently you have created album covers for the bands Bruce Dickinson, Gamma Ray and Stratovarious. How has working with these bands differed from working with Iron Maiden?
Bruce Dickinson is rude and selfish, Stratovarious and Gamma Ray are more polite and have better manners. But the painting is the same. Stratovarious and Gamma Ray are more flexible in their ideas, I prefer working for them. all maiden want is Eddie all the time, which gets boring.
Your work on these album covers has made you sort of a cult icon. How does this make you feel?
To be honest it doesn't make me feel like anything. I just sit here and paint picture for anyone who pays me, the cult icon thing really doesn't affect my life in any way at all. it's not as if I get recognised in the street or anything and I am not personally famous in any way...just people like my pictures sometimes...which is nice because that is one of the reasons I paint them.
Do you listen to the music of the bands you make artwork for?
I usually play the things they send to me once or twice but I find music is very distracting for me, so I don't play it when I am working
What are your favorite bands to listen to?
I have all kinds of music, it really depends on what mood I am in and what CDs I bought recently. I don't have a constant favorite band
Having done most of the album covers for Iron Maiden tends to put you in the same category with other well known cover artists. Can you tell us your thoughts on the following artists and their work?
Roger Dean (Yes Album Covers): I liked Roger Dean's work, I like his imagery, although his technique often used to let him down a bit (as does mine)
Storm Thorgerson (Pink Floyd Covers): I am not familiar with his work, I don't really like Pink Floyd much, I never have. They moan too much. besides, I thought they used photographs on their covers not paintings.
Hugh Syme (Rush Covers): I have never seen his work and I am not familiar with the music of Rush.
What artists, present and past, do you admire?
I like Max Earnst, Joan Miro, Piet Mondrian, Kandinsky, some Picasso and some Braque. other artists are not much of an influence on my illustration work, I tend to work from my own inner vision. whenever I have tried to paint in other peoples style I have found it depressing and boring. so I don't do it.
You've recently done work designing for Knotts theme park in Los Angeles. Can you tell us a little about that project?
Knotts is a theme park in LA. Every year they do a Halloween event and re-name the park "Knotts Scary park" and everyone dresses up as monsters and runs about growling. They asked me to paint a picture of a human corpse which looked a bit like Eddie. so I got as close as I thought I could without infringing on Maidens copyright, any resulting resemblance is simply my style of illustration-that is what happens when I draw a corpse. this year they asked me to make him a brother, so I did that too.
Do you get bored easily? What do you do for fun?
Sometimes I get bored easily, I am currently completely bored with television...and movies, it all seems to be just idiots with guns hitting people. for fun I make avante guard music with a synth and a computer. Also am soon going to paint some more abstract picture because I am bored with figurative work. All that detailed work can get really "up itself" if you do it for too long.
If a young upstart band wanted to commission an album cover from you, how should they contact you? Can they afford it?
[They] can contact me through the email link on my website: www.derekriggs.com or email me at: email@example.com I don't know if they can afford it, I don't know how much money they might have or what they want me to paint
Is there anything you'd like to add to this interview?
Yes, while you were reading this interview I have infected your computer with a deadly virus which has just wiped all your hard disks and rendered your computer useless. Have a nice day...
all the best