Radio Drama
Science Faction

"Stand By For Mars!"
Support this site

Searching! Searching! Searching!

Search results open in new window

An Interview With Artist Richard Groh

Richard Groh has been drawing airplanes and rocket ships for more than sixty years. He started in the third grade and has been learning his craft ever since.

Mostly self-taught, Richard settled on black and white Prismacolor pencils as his favorite medium. "They allow the artist to achieve results rivaling airbrush work, all without masking, paint mixing, and cleanup," he says.

His illustrations have appeared in numerous publications, and his original works are in private collections nationwide. Each of his drawings is researched for historical accuracy, including aircraft types, markings, and settings.

Now retired from a career in graphic arts and printing, he and his wife, Deborah, are making prints of his aircraft and rocket ship artwork available throughout the galaxy at very affordable prices. Deborah maintains the Groh Gallery of Aviation and Space Art ebay store, or you may email Richard and Deborah at for more information.

The Polaris, space ship of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

Let's start with an art question. How do you go about creating a piece. (Your Polaris is one of my favorites, as I'm a Space Cadet fan.)
Actual production of a drawing usually starts with thumbnail sketches depicting the subject matter in any number of rough poses. It is best to try to tell some sort of story within the drawing. An object just flying along straight and level in the middle of a drawing isn't very interesting. It should be doing something-performing a mission or service of some kind. The layout is also important. I never put a main subject in the dead center of a drawing. It is always best to position the aircraft or rocket slightly out of center and with more space between the nose and border edge to "give it some place to go." Dramatic effects can be obtained by dark shading at the top of the background and making things lighter at the bottom. The horizon can be tilted as if the viewer is in a flight attitude alongside or near the subject matter.

Once the layout is decided on, the subject has to be rendered in accurate outline form, with details like panel lines and markings all in place. The completed line drawing is then turned over and pencil lead is applied to the back side using a 2B pencil to cover the entire outline on the drawing. This provides a sort of carbon. Then the drawing is turned right side up and taped into position on the illustration board. Now begins the careful process of tracing over the line work with a 4H hard-lead pencil keeping a sharp point and using a little pressure. I use French Curves and plastic straight-edge tools to obtain smooth lines.

Now we have a white piece of illustration board with our line drawing showing clearly all of the aircraft, rockets, or other subject matter in position and ready for final shading. The background is laid in first. To produce cloud effects I use white, and grays that include 10, 20, 30, and 50 percent black. These are laid in and blended where necessary by rubbing different shades together with an artist's paper stump. Ground details can be added using darker shades where necessary. When the background is completed, we have a ghostly-looking aircraft or rocket flying around in it. The background only goes up to the outer edges of the subject matter.

Then the shading starts on the aircraft. I try to make the aircraft and rockets authentic in every detail, right down to blemishes on paint surfaces and accurate markings, including serial numbers flown by specific pilots. Shading these, you have to think ahead. If you are going to portray a dark-camouflage finish, then be sure to color in the lighter-colored aircraft names, serial numbers, etc., first, because Prismacolor pencils have certain limitations. Lighter colors are not easily applied directly over darker ones, so these must be attended to first and with a certain degree of precision so that edges of letters or numbers, for example, remain crisp. The whole process, from conception to finished drawing can take weeks.

The Polaris drawing, along with most of my rocket ships, is done in an easier way than the aircraft. Since it is shown flying through space, a star-filled black background covers most of the picture. Prismacolor black is not very good for this, so I create the outer space effect in Photoshop on the computer. A solid black rectangle big enough to cover the entire illustration is the first thing produced. Stars are then applied using the pencil and airbrush tools. Planets and spaceships are separate Prismacolor drawings. They are scanned and outlined, then copied and pasted onto the outer space background. Rocket exhausts and other details are airbrushed or blended in, and the "drawing" is usually complete. Half computer generated and half hand-drawn, this was the process used in the Tom Corbett drawing, and I hope it looks fairly convincing.




You've been an artist for at least 45 years. How did you start, what training did you have?

At around eight years of age I came across a book entitled America's Fighting Planes, published in 1943. It was a volume of aviation art and aircraft history by a remarkable writer/artist/pilot named Reed Kinert. He had a sweeping, action-packed style that would appeal to anyone, and I knew right away that I wanted to be able to draw and paint just like him! So I started trying to copy his work, got fairly pleasing results, and just kept at it. Other book and magazine artwork offered valuable tips and techniques. Jo Kotula did beautiful covers for Model Airplane News for decades. Cal (S. Calhoun) Smith did likewise and more for publications like Air Progress, as did James Triggs and Walter M. Jeffries (who also did set designs for movies, as well as the original Star Trek TV series).

I especially loved Jeffries' work. He did all kinds of scale drawings rendered in black and white tones that were near-photographic. Each piece he did oozed precision and the certainty of hours of research before putting pencil, brush, and pen to paper. Of course, Chesley Bonestell was also a particular favorite in the field of astronomical art. I was blown away by his classic landscape of Saturn’s moon, Titan, with the planet majestically floating low in the sky! How in the world could anyone imagine a scene so exotically beautiful? Fifty or sixty years later I still wonder at that painting and all the rest of his work. He was and always will be my chief inspiration for sci-fi art.

So I’m one of those so-called self-taught artists, and those mentioned above were some of my teachers. I stole bits and pieces of technique and inspiration from all of them, and eventually developed my own style. Two high school semesters each of mechanical drawing and basic art helped a lot once we got beyond paper machete and potato prints! I was always enthusiastic and diligent in trying to make each drawing better than the last, and learned something with almost each new picture.

But budding artists should not take a similar road, as being self-taught can be a dead-end street leading to artistic limitation or even mediocrity. In my youth I talked proudly of being self-taught, but that boasting rings pretty hollow when I think of what a few years of formal training might have yielded.

The Luna, space ship from Destination Moon

Please share a bit about your childhood and teen years. Did they influence your choice of subject matter?

I'll try to give you an overview of my checkered experience as an artist as part of my answer to this question. My family migrated from Oklahoma to California in the mid-1930s, just like The Grapes of Wrath story by John Steinbeck, though nowhere near so dramatic. At first they did migratory farm labor and any odd jobs that could be found in the middle of the Depression years. I wasn't around during those hard times before the war, but I know about them, and the way they worked through them has always been a source of pride. They took no handouts and just did what had to be done!

World War II brought steady employment and relative prosperity in the Richmond, California shipyards. My Mom and her sisters all worked as Rosie the Riveter-types building Liberty Ships that helped to win the war. We lived in barracks-style apartments built in the hundreds around Richmond for the influx of defense workers. My Dad and uncles served in the Army and Marines, and brought back lots of stories about their experiences in New Guinea, Bougainville, the Aleutians, and Okinawa. They were then and always will be my heroes, and this is reflected in my choice of World War II art. Whenever regular work became hard to find after the war, we headed back to the familiar orchards around Gridley, California, to pick prunes and peaches. I have some vivid memories of those times, but they have no place here.

Due to the necessities of survival, none of my family had the opportunity to advance very far in school, but they made sure that I at least finished high school. No matter where we were - and we moved around a lot - I was always in school, and doing well.

I really enjoyed high school, especially the various drawing and art classes, and history. All this supported my continuous habit of drawing airplanes. My art teachers provided much-needed criticism of my work, and encouraged me to keep at it. Mr. MacMillan showed me the intricacies of shading, including back-lighting, reflections on metal, and insisted that I learn how to draw clouds. "Your clouds look like mashed potatoes," he often chided. One of the best pieces of advice he gave me was not to draw detailed clouds behind my airplanes. "Just draw 'cloudness' - the viewer will fill in the details as the picture travels along the optic nerve to the brain." He knew what he was talking about. Not only was he a fantastic artist and teacher, but he had also flown TBF Avenger torpedo bombers during the war.

All through my school years I was a rabid movie fan with a special liking for sci-fi movies. I was at just the right age growing up to enjoy TV shows like Sky King, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and Space Patrol. [Learn more about 1950s Space TV shows.] They presented characters faced with impossible odds in every episode. Somehow they always worked through them, teaching us youthful watchers great moral lessons. Characters like Tom Corbett and Buzz Corry were always straight-arrow types, very likeable, with no rough edges or rebellious traits. What you saw was what you got, and they were all super role models. My love for these old TV shows and movies went onto the back burner for almost fifty years until I started to recreate some of those memories on the drawing board.

I kept drawing through a four-year enlistment in the Air Force, 1957-61, and did portraits of my buddies' girl friends, and one or two of the girls I was chasing just to impress them. Word got around that I could do a pretty good job on airplanes, so I got involved in some interesting official publications illustrating B-52s, KC-135s, and other ships assigned to our base. By the time my enlistment was up, I was good enough to get a few pieces in print, and this gradually snowballed into more and more work, though it was strictly part-time.

My real career developed into graphic arts and printing. On the side, I did illustrations for Aero Publishers in Fallbrook, California, The Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society, The Cross and Cockade Society of World War I Aviation Historians, Air Classics Magazine, and many similar pieces for other books, dust jackets, and magazine articles.

In 1983 my own book on the 367th Fighter Group, The Dynamite Gang, was published. It started as a thesis for a master's degree in history, but kept growing until I decided to forget about the thesis, and made arrangements for publication. It took six years of spare time research and writing. I also did the basic book design, paste-up of 192 pages, and shot all of the negatives, including about 400 different photos and my own drawings, assembled the negatives for printing, and submitted the proofs to Aero Publishers for their approval. Once the book was out, I was gratified at the reviews. It won a regional award from the American Aviation and Space Writers Association as best non-fiction work of 1983. I still have the plaque around here somewhere.

I've also done lots of commissioned drawings for private collectors, and a few years ago was honored to do a piece for the Air Force Museum's celebration of Colonel Dean Hess' accomplishments during the Korean War. You may remember that Hess' story was the subject of the book and movie, Battle Hymn, starring Rock Hudson. My most recent published item is a drawing of a Polikarpov I-16 flown by the American ace of the Spanish Civil War, Frank G. Tinker. His story is fascinating, and his fate tragic. The book, entitled Five Down and No Glory, is long overdue. The author, R. Cargill Hall, was kind enough to include the drawing in the book.


What draws you to (ha ha, ha ha. That's supposed to be a pun) use pencils as a medium? Have you produced art in other media? Yes, I've tried several different art materials including paints, pen and ink, lead pencils, and Prismacolor pencils. I never liked ink or paints, either watercolors or oils, as I found them messy and was always dripping spots of color in the wrong places. Then there was the cleaning of brushes and the odor of thinners as well as the mixing of different colors. Also, when doing a painting, there was the tedious process of applying some sort of masking material to the objects in the foreground before laying in the background colors. I tend to be lazy in executing an illustration, and am always looking for an easy way out of doing things, and pencils provide the least problematic means of shading.

I'm not talking about lead pencils. I only use them to do the basic sketching and skeleton views of a drawing. Final shading is done with Prismacolor pencils. These are oil-based and come in a wide variety of colors. I use only black, white, and six intermediate shades of gray, ranging from 10 to 90 percent black. These various shades are easily blended to produce a smooth transition from white to black, so that the final product looks very much like a tone painting, without using paints! Yay! Once the basic tones are applied, the artist can put in details like panel lines, dents, insignia, etc.

Space Patrol's Ed Kemmer's P-51

How do you choose your subjects? Do you have a personal attachment to each subject you draw?

There is always a personal attachment. I have to have some feeling for the subject matter, or it is useless to attempt a drawing. In the case of aircraft I often get inspiration from reading a book.

Jean-Noel Bassior's priceless history of the Space Patrol programs is a good example. [Note that The Thunder Child interviewed Jean-Noel when her book first came out. That interview can be found here:]

There is a small picture of a model of Ed Kemmer's WWII P-51 fighter on page 64. Upon seeing it, I immediately wanted to do a detailed drawing of his ship, but the picture was reproduced too small to read the serial number. So I wrote to Jean-Noel, asking her to put me in contact with Jack McKirgan, the model maker. He in turn very kindly provided pictures of the model large enough to read the serial and finally do the drawing. This kind of thoughtfulness and consideration makes my drawings very pleasant and rewarding experiences! By the way, no true Space Patroller or Cadet should be without Jean-Noel's marvelous book!

Subject choice often comes from knowing someone closely associated with a particular airplane. My latest drawing was of Cuddles, a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber of the 460th Bombardment Group based at Spinazzola, Italy. I had a friend who was the ball-turret gunner on that ship. He and his crewmates survived twenty-five or thirty missions to some of the roughest targets of World War II. Another crew finally had to belly land the ship after she returned to base one day too damaged to land normally. The drawing was my poor way of paying my respects for what they went through every time they took off for German-occupied airspace. They were a special band of brothers, and we can never honor them enough.

As for the science fiction drawings, each piece is a labor of love from the good old days of youth watching Sky King, Buzz Corry, and their contemporary make-believe heroes whipping up on the bad guys. Simple as that. As soon as my current drawing is finished I'm planning to do the Stratosled from one of the 1930s Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers serials. One of Deborah's customers requested it a few months ago, and it sounds like a fun project. I'm always open to suggestions from anyone interested in my artwork.

The Space Ark

You're clearly interested in science fiction. What is your favorite show, if any? Are you a Space Cadet or a Space Patrol guy? Science fiction TV and movies have always been my favorite entertainment format - and don't forget to include radio shows. I can remember Sky King on radio, and it was a very good show. I think only a few episodes have survived, but I never missed it when it was on the air. Of course, Tom Corbett, Astro, and Roger Manning delighted me, as the Space Cadets roamed the universe bickering among themselves but always coming together as an unbeatable team when danger lurked about.

I was hooked on both the radio and TV versions of TC and Space Patrol. We didn't have a television set in the heyday of those programs, but I could go to a friend's house to watch Tom Corbett. I hiked over to my aunt and uncle's house where they let me watch many episodes of Space Patrol. Of course, I always showed up at the theater whenever a new sci-fi movie was playing, including Rocketship X-M, Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, War of the Worlds, It Came From Outer Space, Forbidden Planet, and all the others.

A few years ago, I enlisted in the current Solar Guard, and received Cadet Ed's wonderful package of nostalgic materials. I haven't attended a reunion yet, but hope to soon. I'm sure that there will be many new friends to meet and lots of memories to share!

Rocky Jones' rocket ship

Finally – a business related question (for those of my readers who are thinking about opening up an Ebay store themselves). How long have you had your gallery on Ebay?

My wife, Deborah, opened her Ebay store about thirteen years ago selling mostly aviation and military-related books. A lot were from my collection and not needed anymore, and we used to buy additional books at flea markets, library sales, and a variety of other places. With the addition of thousands of new sellers on Ebay, her book sales gradually dwindled to almost nothing, and she was selling at prices that provided very little return for her time and trouble. About five or six years ago she switched to exclusive sales of prints of my aviation and space artwork.

She started by offering prints of some of my older drawings on her Ebay sales site, and coaxed me along to add as many new pieces as I could manage while holding down a very time-intensive graphic arts and printing career. My regular job took so much time that I had put artwork on the back burner for years. Without her pushing me back into resuming the drawing, I probably never would have taken it up in a serious way again. She started with about a dozen different subjects to sell, and I think her Ebay Store now has about eighty-odd different prints listed.

Regarding new Ebay sellers, I think it is great to give it a try. Ebay makes the jobs of listing and sales followup very easy. It is uncomplicated and enjoyable. If you are looking at it as a long-term source of income, try to offer some kind of universally-needed product or something unique and renewable so that you never run out of customer demand or supply. Deborah's Ebay selling experience has always been a lot of fun and at times rewarding in unexpected ways. For example, she occasionally sells prints to customers who have some personal attachment to the subjects of my drawings, and the prints have special meaning for them. Others ask for specific aircraft or old-time spaceships, and we often get into correspondence and friendships with those who share common interests with us.

Commando Cody's rocket ship

Click on the icons for new features in The Thunder Child.
Radiation Theater: 1950s Sci Fi Movies Discussion Boards
The Sand Rock Sentinel: Ripped From the Headlines of 1950s Sci Fi Films

[Home Page] [Contact Us] [Triskelion] [TechnoOcean] [Daily Space] [Store] [Site Map]

To see our animated navigation bars, please download the Flash Player from Adobe.

All text © 2006-2012 The Thunder Child unless otherwise credited.
All illustrations retain original copyright.
Please contact us with any concerns as to correct attribution.
Any questions, comments or concerns contact The Thunder Child.

joomla visitor