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Donald J Ryker III
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About Donald J Ryker III
How much can one learn about an artist by looking at his work? A review of painter Donald J Ryker's latest pieces does NOT reveal the whole story about this artist's life and passions and how these works were created. Click on the "About" tab to learn more.

About Donald J Ryker III

Ryker has painted colorful horses gazing over their shoulder; golden polar bear families; service dogs partnered with their owners; and wild animals in their native habitats. Each piece conveys a sense of connection with the subject, while simultaneously portraying a celebration of the colors all around us. Ryker’s bold use of color and strong compositional elements expresses the intense beauty the artist sees in the world around him and how much he values connection.

Ryker’s vital and enthusiastic view of life comes from the seat of his power wheelchair. Ryker was born in Santa Clara, CA. He spent 3 weeks in intensive care due to lack of oxygen at birth and lives his life with the brain injury that was caused. Ryker received his first power wheelchair when he was 2 years old and there has been no stopping him since. He went from lying on the floor unable to roll or crawl, to being able to wheel through shopping malls, soccer games, parks, and even fishing. His family had a “Can Do” attitude and were creative at figuring out how he could experience everything all children enjoy. Washing cars with a towel rubber banded to his hand; street hockey as the goalie; holding the banner for the marching band; and eventually painting with a paintbrush attached to a hardhat were all part of his growing up years. 

Ryker grew up in schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. For the first 3 years he was enrolled in special education classes then he mainstreamed with his peers. A physically disabled person depends on those around him for support. As a child Ryker showed he was a creative person but never got the chance to do something completely on his own because someone else was always helping. Ryker’s personal journey as an artist began in high school when, for the first time, Ryker had the satisfaction of creating his own artwork and expressing himself independently.

Having Cerebral Palsy created some challenges. Ryker drives his wheelchair with a joystick, but does not have control of his arm or hand to hold the brush and paint. When he was a teenager his mother attached a brush to a hardhat and Ryker began painting with his head.

Wheelchairs, hardhats, and easels don’t fit well together. In his first art class in his teens Ryker figured out the best way to paint was sitting on the floor with his canvas propped on a roll of carpet. Sitting on the floor allowed him to look down at his work. He was mobile so he could paint at school, at home, and even at his grandparents.

In high school Ryker became enthusiastic about both painting and digital film editing but when sitting on the floor became difficult to do Ryker painted less. Majoring in editing seemed the way to go. After high school graduation Ryker visited editors in Los Angeles, CA who suggested he take lots of art classes.

Nearing the end of his academic studies in college he began taking all the basic art training. When he discovered he could use a drafting table as his easel Ryker rediscovered his love of painting. He switched his major and began developing as a professional artist from that moment and uses his hardhat and brush to paint with his head to this day.

Ryker originally started working with abstract brush strokes and was limited in his range of movement of the brush. In 2010 for the first time he was able to have enough control of his brush to create recognizable images and increased his skill over the next year until he was able to do realistic painting. Ryker paints with acrylic paint on canvas and uses thick paint to have better control. He likes the texture and brush stroke this gives his work. Blending and detail work can still be difficult so he developed a style of painting in layers with a base pigment and layers of colored glaze to give depth, highlights and lowlights. He uses different brushes and sponges to apply the paint to achieve different effects. 

During his college art classes Ryker was intrigued when he was studying Franz Marc’s use of color. Marc is known for depicting animals in blue, red, yellow etc to create certain emotions. His painting are vivid and he was influenced by Cubist artists. Recently Ryker has begun doing his own sketching in charcoal on the canvas and is using Cubist style to create the images of animals that he then paints. Ryker also uses color to create his images as in his Blue Weimaraner, Bison, and Green Horse. Even when painting in realistic tints Ryker uses saturated colored glazes to create highlights and lowlights and add depth. Ryker’s backgrounds often show the influence of modern impressionists. 

Ryker’s interest can be seen in his choice of subjects. Fishing, family, movies, gaming, the disabled community, and service dog’s have influenced or appeared as subjects in his art.

“Every morning I wake up and walk in where Donald Ryker’s art is hanging. Seeing it reminds me of the work that went into creating in and i am inspired for the day.” Joey Furtado

“Donald Ryker really captures the essence of animals. I think it might be in the eyes.” California Wildlife Zoologist

“I don’t now how he paints better with his head than I can paint with my hand” visitor to Believe and Create Exhibition

Often the subject is n motion, or caught from an interesting angle. In every piece the viewer has a sense of connection with the subject.
Donald Ryker has had 2 solo shows in Silicon Valley. “Donald Ryker” and “Believe and Create”, and he was featured at the annual SARC Service Above Self Awards where he received the California State Legislature Certificate of Recognition 2016 Innovation Award. He graduated with his Associate of Arts degree in Silicon Valley where he now resides. Donald Ryker has been a presence in downtown San Jose, CA for 10 years and has been featured on NBCs Bay Area Proud.

Ryker now paints in his home studio on the 6th floor of a modern high rise in San Jose, CA. He has natural light and views overlooking Silicon Valley and the foothills. He can look out his window at life going on in the streets below. Ryker’s drafting table doubles as a place to eat, his art supplies are in a rolling tool chest, and his hard hat is perched on the counter. Ryker sits in a colorfully spattered extra wheelchair to paint. His work in progress is displayed on the walls of his living space and his long entry hallway and at any time Ryker can look up and think about what to do next on the 4 or 5 paintings he has in progress.

Today, as a professional artist, Ryker continues to feel great satisfaction with each piece he completes. He has physical limitations from Cerebral Palsy but he would like people to know a person in a wheelchair can be a part of society, accomplish their goals and dreams, and make a contributions. He feels he is making that statement with every painting and with the success of his art business.

Artist Statement

When I am choosing an image to paint I look for an subject in motion, an image that has vibrant color, light and shadow. I can’t take my own photos so I am very happy to have the internet to find what I want. I choose animals that look powerful, and have vitality. I like the strong presence of wild animals and the warm heart of domestic animals. I like finding images that engage the viewer and create a connection between them and the animals.
I paint with my head. Very few people in the world do that. I use a hardhat with a stick attached to it and that’s where I fasten my brush or charcoal. I have had to be creative to find ways to control the paint on the canvas so I could develop the look I wanted. I did not have the fine motor skill to blend color or to do fine detail.

For blending backgrounds from light to dark I mix a series of hues of the same color. When I want subtle color on the subject I will under-paint with vibrant saturated color and glaze with many layers until I have the final color, but because I use glaze that is translucent the primary color will inform the surface.

I am very interested in the texture of fur and feathers and how expressive animals eyes are. I use thick paint to create texture. I use a sponge for natural elements like snow, water, or flowers and even make streaks with the sponge for hair, and grasses.

Figurative artist, and renowned instructor, Eve Matthias, taught me how to keep my acrylic colors very vibrant and clear. She also taught me to see the range of values in an image and transpose those into bright under painting then cover with layers of glaze to make a stained glass effect. She encouraged me to use color for shadow and light and not depend on black and white in my work.
One of my collectors recently mentioned that he looks at my art on his wall, remembers the work that went into it, and is inspired daily. Another said “I don’t know how he paints better with his head than I can paint with my hand.” A California Wildlife expert said that I really capture the essence of the animals. “I think it is in the eyes” she said.

When I was featured on NBC Bay Area Proud, newscasters commented that “He is so talented. If you saw those works of art without knowing the backstory you would think they are beautiful in and of themselves. Knowing the backstory, knowing Don’s story, knowing how much work went in to creating each one makes them all the more spectacular. They are masterpieces.”

I want people to see my art and feel positive. I want them to connect with animals, and be inspired by nature. I also want them to know that a person in a wheelchair can be creative and expressive and successful. I will continue to explore animal themes, landscapes and still-life staying true to the vibrant colors and connection that I am known for. --Donald Ryker