Derek Riggs: The Artist Who Painted Heavy Metal

From Portsmouth pubs to California studios, his art defied rules and defined an era. This is more than just heavy metal art; this is history.

Derek Riggs, the renowned artist behind Iron Maiden's iconic mascot Eddie, is shown holding up an album cover he designed. The album, titled 'Run for Cover,' features a menacing illustration of Eddie. Riggs, looking directly at the camera, is making a grimacing expression, perhaps mimicking the fierce look of his creation. He holds a signed message in front of him, adding a personal touch to the interaction.
Derek Riggs
Key Takeaways
  • Derek Riggs is a self-taught artist whose iconic artwork defined the visual identity of heavy metal. His most famous creation is Eddie, the mascot for Iron Maiden.
  • Riggs’ collaborations with Iron Maiden in the 80s produced some of the most recognizable album covers in music history. His style, initially using acrylics and alkyds, later shifted to digital art for health reasons.
  • Derek Riggs’ influence transcends Iron Maiden. His work has graced albums by diverse metal artists and even inspired characters in video games, cementing his status as a legendary figure in heavy metal culture.

Portsmouth Beginnings

February 13, 1958, marked the birth of Derek Riggs, a day that would leave a lasting mark on the heavy metal world, though its significance lay veiled for many years to come. His arrival in Portsmouth, a gritty port city steeped in England’s naval history, set the stage for an unlikely journey. It wouldn’t be warships and admirals that shaped his legacy, but rather the explosive energy of a burgeoning musical revolution.

Derek Riggs was born into a world on the cusp of a musical revolution that would shape his art and the visual identity of heavy metal.

1958 placed young Derek amidst a generation that would bear witness to the meteoric rise of rock ‘n’ roll and its heavier, more rebellious offspring. The world around him pulsed with a transformative energy, a prelude to the cultural explosion that would both inspire his art and define the visual identity of heavy metal.

The Self-Taught Artist

From his earliest years, Derek Riggs possessed an innate talent for drawing and painting. Unlike many renowned artists who honed their craft through formal instruction, Riggs was largely self-taught. This unconventional path granted him unbridled freedom to explore and experiment, unburdened by traditional artistic expectations.

Riggs’ self-taught approach allowed him to develop a fiercely individualistic style perfectly suited to the raw energy of heavy metal.

Being self-taught allowed Riggs to cultivate a distinct style, untethered by the influence of any specific school of thought. This fierce individualism would become a defining characteristic of his artwork and perfectly suited to the raw and rebellious energy of heavy metal.

While Derek did briefly attend art school, his time there was cut short. Expelled after voicing his dissatisfaction with the curriculum, this incident unveiled a hint of the rebellious spirit and refusal to conform that would later serve him so well.

Rather than a setback, Derek’s expulsion was likely a defining moment. It likely reinforced his belief in his own creative instincts. Instead of breaking him, the experience seemed to solidify his resolve to forge his own artistic path, guided solely by his own unique vision.

Eddie is Born

Derek Riggs’ name is inextricably linked to Eddie, the iconic mascot who has become synonymous with the mighty Iron Maiden. Eddie’s menacing grin and gruesome form adorn not just album covers, but t-shirts, merchandise, and even the band’s electrifying stage shows. He is a true cultural force in the realm of heavy metal, and Riggs is the creative genius behind it all.

Surprisingly, Eddie’s origins lie in a punk rock design, not the world of heavy metal.

Surprisingly, the first incarnation of Eddie wasn’t designed with Iron Maiden in mind. Initially titled “Electric Matthew Says Hello,” this original artwork was intended for a punk cover. This fascinating tidbit reveals the character’s unexpected origins and hints at the raw, rebellious energy that Riggs would later so perfectly channel into the visual essence of heavy metal.

Iron Maiden Discovers a Legend

Derek Riggs diligently crafted a portfolio showcasing the breadth of his artistic talent, a collection of styles and themes that would prove instrumental to his future. Unbeknownst to him, this portfolio held the key to his destiny; it was about to land in the hands of Iron Maiden’s management, who were desperately seeking a visual representation as unique as their sound.

Iron Maiden’s management actively sought a visual embodiment of their music, finding the answer in Derek Riggs’s raw artwork.

Their search wasn’t a matter of mere happenstance. Iron Maiden’s management held a keen desire to embody their music’s raw energy in their visual identity. When they laid eyes on the raw power of “Electric Matthew Says Hello,” recognition sparked—this was the missing piece. A pivotal moment unfolded, a shift that would alter heavy metal imagery forever.

Understanding the potential of Riggs’ original artwork, Iron Maiden’s management extended a fateful request for a transformation. Their vision demanded an alignment, a fusion of their emerging image—a mix of macabre fantasy and rebellious spirit–with Riggs’ artistic power.

This was more than a simple commission; it marked the start of a long and legendary collaboration between Derek Riggs and Iron Maiden. Eager to rise to the challenge, Riggs began reshaping his initial concept, breathing life into what would become history’s most iconic musical mascots: Eddie.

The impact of this discovery rippled far beyond the shores of Iron Maiden’s success. It thrust Derek Riggs into the heart of the heavy metal world, transforming him into a highly sought-after artist, renowned both within and outside the metal community.

A Golden Era and Shifting Tides

The 1980s shone as a golden age for both Iron Maiden and Derek Riggs. Riggs worked tirelessly with the band throughout this period, bringing to life some of heavy metal’s most visually stunning and iconic album covers. From the demonic imagery of “The Number of the Beast” to the fantastical landscapes of “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” his creations became as inseparable from Iron Maiden’s legacy as their thunderous music itself.

Derek Riggs’ artwork from the ’80s became synonymous with Iron Maiden, a visual testament to their iconic sound.

Riggs’ collaboration with Iron Maiden extended into the early 1990s, yet change was stirring. As the band ventured into new musical territories, their visual identity mirrored this evolution.

1992 represented a significant turning point in Riggs’ relationship with Iron Maiden. The band began welcoming artwork from other artists, lessening his role as their sole visual architect. It was a conscious decision to add diversity to their imagery, but it also signaled a departure from the singular style Derek Riggs had so masterfully imprinted on the band.

Though his contributions to Iron Maiden diminished after 1992, his impact remained undeniable. His body of work had transformed into something legendary, and even with the exploration of other artists, the core visuals Riggs birthed continued to resonate deeply with fans worldwide.

Despite the change in dynamic, Derek Riggs’ legacy within the Iron Maiden universe endures. His artwork from the ’80s and early ’90s enjoys ongoing celebration, reimagined across merchandise, reissues, and serving as endless inspiration for new generations of artists within the metal community.

The Evolution of Tools

Derek Riggs’ early artistic arsenal relied heavily on acrylics and alkyds. Acrylics, famed for their rapid drying time, and the fast-drying oil-based alkyds allowed him to craft intricate and explosive visuals perfectly matching Iron Maiden’s musical intensity.

This choice of mediums was deliberate, mirroring the rapid pace and intensity characteristic of the heavy metal world. Quick-drying paints granted Riggs the speed necessary to keep up with the demanding production schedules tied to album releases and promotional materials.

Health concerns prompted Derek Riggs to transition from traditional paints to the safety of digital art.

The early 1990s marked a turning point, as Riggs embraced the realm of digital painting. This transition wasn’t merely chasing technological trends; it was driven by a deep concern for his health.

Long-term exposure to the chemicals within acrylics carries potential risks like headaches, dizziness, and respiratory problems. Alkyds pose similar concerns, with added dangers of skin irritation and, in severe cases, even damage to internal organs.

These health hazards prompted Riggs to reassess his tools. By adopting digital painting, he could safeguard his well-being while unlocking endless creative potential.

This transition by no means signaled a compromise in quality. Instead, digital tools expanded Riggs’ artistic reach, allowing him to explore techniques and visual effects previously unattainable through traditional mediums.

Beyond Eddie and Across Borders

While Derek Riggs’ name is indelibly etched alongside Iron Maiden, his creative boundaries extend far beyond a single band. His artistic talents have graced album covers for other heavy metal giants, including Bruce Dickinson’s solo ventures and the Finnish power metal titans, Stratovarius. These collaborations highlight Riggs’ adaptability and his power to seamlessly tailor his style to diverse musical visions.

Derek Riggs’ artistic influence extends far beyond Iron Maiden, shaping the visual identities of other major metal acts.

Derek Riggs traded the overcast English landscape for the sun-drenched scenery of Riverside County, California. The move marks not just a geographical shift but also a testament to the global reach of his influence. California’s thriving art scene provides a fitting home for an artist of his stature.

Yet, even amidst triumph, Riggs faces personal battles. He grapples with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression triggered by the shift in seasons, typically during winter. This condition not only impacts his emotional state but can also affect his artistic output, adding a hidden layer of challenge to his creative journey.

From Albums to Video Games

In 2009, renowned game designer Tim Schafer unleashed “Brütal Legend,” an action-adventure title deeply rooted in the explosive world of heavy metal. Game worlds erupted with imagery inspired by classic metal albums, lyrics transformed into lore, and a heavy metal soundtrack pulsed through its core.

The protagonist of ‘Brütal Legend’, Eddie Riggs, pays homage to Derek Riggs and Iron Maiden’s iconic mascot.

At the center of this mayhem stands Eddie Riggs, the game’s protagonist. His name is an undeniable homage, a fusion of two metal giants: Eddie the Head, Iron Maiden’s iconic mascot, and Derek Riggs, the artist responsible for breathing life into the monstrous mascot. Eddie Riggs serves as the player’s guide through a universe that bleeds heavy metal.

The creation of Eddie Riggs transcends mere tribute; it’s a profound acknowledgment of the enduring impact of both Iron Maiden and Derek Riggs on the very essence of heavy metal culture. Their influence, encapsulated in a single name, speaks to the enduring power of metal visuals.

This tribute within “Brütal Legend” illuminates the immense reach of Derek Riggs’ work. His influence extends far beyond iconic album covers and merchandise; it has seeped seamlessly into other entertainment forms, solidifying his legacy as a pioneer of heavy metal imagery.

A Metal Icon

Derek Riggs…the name itself evokes a visceral reaction within the realm of heavy metal. If there were a Mount Rushmore dedicated to this genre, his creations would be carved eternally alongside the faces of legendary musicians like Ozzy and Lemmy. Riggs transcends mere illustration; he visualized an entire era, the defiant spirit of a subculture, and for many, the soundtrack of their rebellious youth.

Derek Riggs’ influence on heavy metal imagery rivals that of iconic musicians like Ozzy and Lemmy.

What truly sets Riggs apart is his unwavering ability to adapt. His journey began with traditional mediums like acrylics and alkyd, yet when faced with health concerns, he seamlessly embraced the world of digital art.

His reach extends far beyond the Iron Maiden universe. Riggs expanded his creative dominion to include collaborations with heavyweights like Bruce Dickinson and Stratovarius, proving his effortless ability to translate the nuances of diverse metal sounds into captivating visuals.

More than just an artist, Derek Riggs is a storyteller, a chronicler of heavy metal history, and a cultural ambassador for the genre. His creations transcend album covers and concert merch; they have ingrained themselves into our very understanding of everything that metal embodies.

Twisted Opinion

Derek Riggs is synonymous with Iron Maiden’s iconic imagery. Yet, his artistic journey began with punk and transitioned into health-inspired digital mediums. Does this mean heavy metal is secretly good for your health?

Absolutely! And here’s why – I spent my twenties moshing at Slayer shows instead of going to spin class, and look at me now: a glowing beacon of cardiovascular fitness and emotional stability. Just the other day I traded my protein shake for a can of Iron Maiden Trooper ale, and you know what? My deadlift PR went through the roof! Forget kale and yoga, blasting “Run to the Hills” on repeat is all the self-care you need.

Anya Petrova (age 36),
Comedian and Certified Metalhead Wellness Guru