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Welcome to Believe and Create Art, the website for hard hat painter Donald Ryker.
Scroll down to find links to Ryker’s original art, prints, and printed merchandise. You will also find videos, and blog posts that show how Don creates with his head using a hard hat and head stick as tools. Painting with his head, Donald Ryker, who has cerebral palsy, has created unique, colorful, and joyful paintings that inspire people and connect to the animal world. Don’t miss more detail in his Biography and feel free to contact Donald through his email BelieveandCreateArt@gmail.com. Purchase his artwork to having a vital vibrant focal piece for your room.
Believe and Create Art Original Expressionist Paintings
From emerald green wolves to golden polar bear families, purple elephants, cobalt blue horses and yellow-jacketed service dogs, partnered with their owners, Ryker’s paintings convey a sense of connection and a celebration of beauty. They represent how he sees the world around him and how he chooses to live within it.
Ryker was born in Santa Clara, Calif. He spent three weeks in intensive care due to a lack of oxygen at birth and was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a brain injury that would affect his ability to speak and move.
But he didn’t let that stop him, or even slow him down. Ryker received his first power wheelchair when he was 2 years old. He went from lying on the floor unable to roll or crawl, to wheeling through shopping malls, soccer games, parks, and classrooms.
His family had a “Can Do” attitude and were creative at figuring out how he could experience everything all children enjoy. He learned how to fish and play video games and baseball and street hockey. He washed cars with a towel rubber-banded to his hand and held the banner for his school’s marching band in parades.
For the first three school years, Ryker was enrolled in special education classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. But it became clear he could keep up with his peers, so he was mainstreamed into regular classes. It took a lot of help for him to succeed.
Just holding a paintbrush was a challenge. At an early age, with lots of practice, Ryker had learned to control the joystick of his power wheelchair but he did not have the fine motor control for a brush and paint. So, when he signed up for an art class in high school, his mother suggested he use his head instead. The first step was to attach a paintbrush to a hardhat.
Wheelchairs, hardhats, and easels, however, don’t fit well together. In his first class, Ryker figured out the best way to paint was sitting on the floor with his canvas propped on a roll of carpet. This allowed him to look down at his work. He was mobile so he could paint at school, at home, and even at his grandparents.
But sitting on the floor became a challenge, so Ryker began channeling his creativity into editing videos. It was something he could do in his chair, using a joystick. After graduating high school, he visited video editors in Los Angeles who suggested he take lots of art classes in college to improve his editing.
Near 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. He uses his hardhat and brush to paint with his head to this day.
When he began, Ryker had such limited range of motion that he could only work with abstract brush strokes.
In 2010, for the first time he was able to have enough control of his brush to create recognizable images. He increased his skill over the next year until he was able to do a realistic painting.
Ryker paints with acrylics on canvas and uses thick paint to have better control. He likes the texture and brushstroke this consistency gives his work. Blending and detail work can still be difficult so he has developed a style of painting in layers. He starts with a base pigment, then adds 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 became intrigued with he work of German Expressionist Franz Marc. Marc
had been influenced by Cubist artists and was best known for his vivid use of color, depicting animals in blues, reds, and yellows to create certain emotions.
In time, Ryker has developed his own Expressionist style, using vibrant color to create such images as 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 also often show the influence of modern impressionists.
As his techniques have evolved, so has his subject matter. Ryker’s collection now includes his reflections on family, fishing, movies, gaming, still lifes, weather patterns, the disabled community with service dogs. Often his subjects are in motion, or caught from an interesting angle. But that’s not surprising when you know that this artist sees the world from a unique perspective — from the seat of a wheelchair — where he has found a way to celebrate the challenges, colors and beauty of life.
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“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 it and I am inspired for the day.”
— Joey Furtado
Donald Ryker has had two solo shows in Silicon Valley: “Donald Ryker” and “Believe and Create.”
He was honored at the annual SARC “Service Above Self” Awards where he received the California State Legislature Certificate of Recognition 2016 Innovation Award. In 2016 he was a feature subject on the local NBC Program “Bay Area Proud.”
In 2017 Ryker exhibited at the Triton Museum of Art, in Santa Clara, CA.
Ryker has now received his Associate of Arts degree and lives independently in downtown San Jose, where he, his chair and his service dogs have been a presence for the past 10 years.
He paints almost every day in his home studio on the sixth floor of a modern high rise, where he has natural light and views overlooking Silicon Valley, the foothills, and life on the busy city streets below.
Reporters have said "He is a true inspiration", and from one collector - “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 it and I am inspired for the day.”
Donald Ryker paints to evoke a feeling of connection and relationship for his viewers. He chooses animal subjects, bright paint, and lots of texture to create joy. He hopes to be an inspiration, showing that people can thrive when they focus on the positive.
Ryker is passionate about painting and continuing to create art. It has been said that his paintings "are masterpieces" and that "they could easily hang beside high dollar expressionist artists' work". Purchasing Ryker's artwork will provide the collector with value they will enjoy the rest of their life.
Featured Originals and Prints
I chose this image of a leaping dolphin because it is so joyful in its twisting movement in the air. The shadows and curves create lines that your eye follows and for me the image evokes feelings of breaking free of gravity. It is amazing that such a large animal can be so acrobatic. After painting the lights and shadows of his form in primary colors, I used many layers of glaze in blue, red, purple and finally white to give the suggestion of gray. The foaming surf is sponged icy blue tint and glazed with blues, and purples and reds to give the visual depth. Have you ever felt this joyful? Wouldn’t you want a daily reminder of that feeling?
Acrylic on Canvas
36 x 36 x 1.75
I love the holidays, and the seasons. This still life of Christmas season. Tea sets represent getting together and celebrating with people you care about. I chose this image because there it gave me the opportunity to play with color, and shadow. Enjoy. – Donald Ryker
Acrylic on Canvas
24 x 36 x 1.75″
One Team Two Heroes 2
I have had a service dog from Canine Companions for Independence for 20 years. From their start CCI has provided helpers for people with physical limitations. Five years ago they also began the Wounded Warriors program to provide helpers to returning veterans. In 2013 my friend, Dan Keplinger, invited me to join his next show “Heroes”. I chose to paint my heroes, the service dogs and the veterans, in my artwork series “One Team, Two Heroes”.
My style was new. I had recently discovered my ability to guide my brush to more accurately represent my subjects. I was new to layering many colors to develop a more sophisticated piece that my viewers eye would be able to spend time looking at. To see the stages of development of my “One Team Two Heroes” artwork go here: https://www.believeandcreateart.com/projects-creating-art/. You can also enjoy other projects there.
The full series includes 4 pieces. In the first 3, the photographer cropped the subject to subtly give a glimpse of the disabled person but feature the service dog clearly. One of the things that attracted me to these photos was how the images express the bond between the service dog and their person. It is common for my dogs to rest their heads on part of me or my wheelchair, to lean against my wheel, and to sit right where I can touch the top of their head or shoulder. We check in with each other all day long like this. Having a service dog means always having a companion.
Acrylic on Canvas
18 x 24 x 1.75″