HOPEWELL, Va. – Some call him a rock star. Others speak of him as a legend.
Danny Riddle is known for his steady hand and his ability to turn a car into a work of art.
“He does things I can’t imagine doing and he does things other people can’t imagine doing. That’s why he stays so busy,” said customer Tommy Williams.
Danny Riddle’s name is recognized nationwide, written about in magazines and seen on national television.
“My forte would be freehand stripes, freehand lettering, gold leaf airbrushing, that’s what I really love,” Riddle said.
Raised in Hopewell, Riddle graduated from Hopewell High School in 1965.
“My first job after high school was at Hercules. I was in a band. We played six nights a week and became quite popular,” Riddle said.
The gig saw him quit his day job and tour the East Coast with the band before returning to a job in Hopewell with Allied Signal.
But for decades, Danny had a side hustle that started accidentally.
“I had taken a bottle of Testors model airplane paint and a cheap paint brush and painted my initials on the doors in Old English. Before I left I was making $18 making cars for $3 apiece”, Riddle said.
This would be the start of Riddle Sign Company in 1973.
“Truck lettering, window lettering, banners, airbrush, pinstripe, gold foil, full custom paint. Pretty much an array of street signs, custom paint company,” Riddle said.
He was able to make a name and reputation for quality through word of mouth.
“He can draw a straight line and I can’t even draw a straight line with a ruler,” Williams said.
Riddle is a car enthusiast at heart. However, it is the painting, the image in his mind that brings everything he touches to life.
“It seems like some days you might come here, load up the brush and you start working and you just follow the brush. You’re just in one zone and it’s so nice,” Riddle said.
It’s a talent that has transformed thousands of cars, motorcycles and anything with wheels into one-of-a-kind works of art.
“The good Lord helps keep my hand steady, but I really feel like through his guidance I’ve developed a talent,” Riddle said.
Although he said he was semi-retired, his artistic talent remains in high demand.
“I think it’s a gift and I think he’s honed that gift over the years and years. He’s no different from an Olympic athlete who just said, I want to get better. And now today it looks easy but it’s been years of work,” Becky McDonough, CEO of the Hopewell-Prince George County Chamber of Commerce, said.
While some say what Danny does is a dying art form, a few years ago Danny was asked to help the school system show the next generation how to do stripes.
“An opportunity presented itself to teach auto body and collision repair at Hopewell High School,” Riddle said.
Now 75, Riddle looks back on a full life and leaves behind his legacy in painting.
“I feel like I’m blessed,” Riddle said. “You are driven to leave something so people know you were there. My main motivation is to leave something for my family, my son, my grandsons, my granddaughters.”
Riddle said he was slowing down and trying to retire, but his phone kept ringing.
Like any artist, he is really happiest when he is holding a paintbrush.