Motor Illustrator: Roy Grinnell
July 1969 cover. A mechanic leans over the car's engine while keeping his eye on the diagnostic screen behind him. In the foreground are other pieces of diagnostic equipment.
Leroy "Roy" Clair Grinnell, born in Santa Barbara, California in July 1933, is best known as an aviation artist who, as far back as he can recall, was either drawing planes or building plastic models of them. Only 10, for his Swedish maternal grandmother, he painted a Swedish P-51 (WWII fighter) bringing a FW-190 (German fighter) down. It's impressive enough that he knew what those planes were but that he could depict them faithfully gave a significant hint that his future lay in art.
Grinnell's father Harry was an instructor in the Merchant Marines when Roy was a child, and later, a gardener at a private estate. He passed along to his son the value of discipline and a love of the outdoors. When Roy was in the Boy Scouts, he liked outdoor activities but he particularly enjoyed learning more about Native American Indians, reading about them and collecting Indian artifacts. As a scout, he was voted into the Order of the Arrow Society, an honorific for scouts who keep and promote the traditions of camping. Roy's love of camping and his exploration of the West would also be reflected in his later art.
When Grinnell completed high school at Santa Barbara High School in 1951, he was off to join the Navy. As a seaman first class in the Pacific Fleet, he served from 1951 to 1954. Stationed in Guam during the Korean War, he often lived in the jungle searching for Japanese soldiers who were holdouts after the War had ended. After military service, he went to the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles, graduating with honors and a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree. The training he got there gave him the confidence to move to New York where he worked as a Madison Avenue illustrator for a few years. With a greater knowledge of the art market, he decided to freelance. In the sixties, he also worked as an illustrator for the Martin Company.
About 1975, he left New York to return to California where he would concentrate on fine art painting. And in 1978, prompted by Western genre artists there, he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where he began a career as a Western artist, faithful to the stories and details of the Old West. He tried his hand at teaching, as well. A decade later he was nominated for membership in the Cowboy Artists of America.
His painting reproductions and illustrations have appeared in magazines such as Air Force magazine; Air Progress; American Aviation; American Modeler; Approach; Art Voices/South; Aviation Art; Aviation History; Field and Stream; Flight Journal; MoToR; National Wildlife; Popular Mechanics; and Reader's Digest. His book work (illustrations and reproductions of paintings) includes American Fighter Aces Series of Lithographs; The Best of Zane Gray, Outdoorsman; Bomber Missions. Aviation Art of World War II; Born to Be King; Cheyennes and Horse Soldiers; The Comanchero Frontier; Fishing with McClane; Forty and Eight of America's Great; Meet Josefina, an American Girl; A New Mexico Tradition, Southwest Realism; Power. The Art of Technology; Profiles in Salt Water Angling; USA Uber Alles; Without Quarter; and The Zane Grey Cookbook. A collection of many of his aviation paintings, published in France, appears as, Artists of the Aces. Grinnell has also appeared on other printed materials, such as the board game Aces High; the Sunsout jigsaw puzzles Forged in China Skies, Iraqnophobia; Nose Art Legends of WWII; Remember. Returning is Secondary; and Forged in China Skies; and several calendars, including 2001's Fighting Aces; 2002's Prop Planes; and 2004's Bombs Away; Fighting Aces; and Western Classics.
While well-known for his work on outdoor, Western, and mechanical subjects, he is most at home telling detailed, accurate aviation history stories on canvas. He has been named the official artist of the American Fighter Aces Foundation, and, in 2004, received their special award as Honorary Fighter Ace. Roy has also painted many originals for the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame, Commemorative Air Force. Commissions for prints have come his way from the Association of Naval Aviation, the Air Force, the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the Flying Tigers Association, and the Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation. In 1999, the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation of Pensacola, Florida, honored him with its R.G. Smith Award for excellence in naval aviation art. He was awarded first place at the National Naval Museum art contest in 2003. In 2008, he took Best of Show in the CAE Horizons of Flight Aviation Art competition for his Battle of Britain painting "The Struggle Begins".
Grinnell has participated in numerous exhibits, and his paintings appear in national and international museums and private collections.
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