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Herb Ryman - My Fellow Imagineers - Tom Gilleon - American Western Art

Herb Ryman illustration

Out of all of the illustrators, Herbie is the one with the least distinguishable line between illustration and fine arts. Herbie was a master colorist not only did he have a complete technical understanding of color theory, he also knew intuitively what color combinations told the story best.  In the China Pavilion illustration for Epcot, he used an over all color palette that was keyed to work with the yellow sky.  His color scheme was technically correct but he knew intuitively that to make the scene look and feel like China the sky had to be yellow.  Herbie even had the ability to use straight- out-of-the-tube paint to create a sophisticated color scheme and avoid the garish clashing colors that often happen when they are not mixed. He was a draftsman with incredible drawing skills and even with years of practice and experience he was on a never-ending search for improving.  As a spatial designer, Herbie excelled at arranging elements in the painting so that they related to one another in an exceptional way.  For example, adding people to the painting is critical to giving it the human touch and the guest perspective but sometimes they can command too much attention.  Herbie used a lot of people in his illustrations but they never took away from the focus of the painting. Instead, they enhanced it.  Some of Herbie’s most beautiful paintings began in the Imagineering maintenance paint department.  Herbie explained to me on several occasions, when he had a big painting to do he would give his illustration board to the maintenance paint men and have them use common house paint in random colors and cover the entire painting surface using big brush strokes.  This provided him with a base coat of both color and texture for the subject he would be illustrating.

Herbie built up an image bank from his research that included extensive national and international travel including “running away” with the Ringling Brother’s Circus (he was really invited to travel with the circus by Bill Antes, the circus’ advance man.)  Herbie also enjoyed people, watching them, learning from them, and being in the company of fascinating people.  It was not uncommon for him to drop by and mention an experience like reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy with Marilyn Monroe or letting you know who’s portrait he had just painted in his latest illustration. Herbie was an avid reader of classic novels and biographies as well as vintage and modern magazines. And, he sketched those things he found intriguing in his sketchbook. His quick image recall was the result of constant exploring and immersing his imagination in the heart and soul of a subject.  His studio was a wonderful example of his fascination with images.  He had a bedroom surrounded by bookshelves filled with images, artifacts, and crammed full of historical books including a signed original manuscript by Zane Grey, popular author of western stories.  His bed and the couch were actually in the studio with his easel, canvas, paints, and kitchenette—he lived in his work.