The Beautiful Flame-Painting of Tim Phelps…

We are very happy to welcome our newest contributor to the Lamley Group, Tim Phelps.  We will continue to strive here at Lamley to show you all kinds of interesting custom work in the diecast world, and Tim’s cars easily fall into that category.

Tim has tremendous talent, and has taken it in all kinds of directions.  When he is not flaming miniature hot rods, he serves as an Associate Professor and Medical Illustrator, teaching Medical and Scientific illustration in the Graduate Program of Art as Applied to Medicine, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, USA for 26 years.  He is a Past President and Past Chairman of the Board of the Association of Medical Illustrators. He has received over 40 regional and national awards for his artwork published in textbooks, magazines, and professional journals. He even released a book, “Circles of Life: The Nature Mandalas of Tim Phelps” found here: 

And other artwork found here

I don’t know how much more I can say, other than letting you read more about Tim, and see some of his mind-blowing work.

Thanks Tim!

On with the article:

Collecting habits often can be traced back to a significant moment or event in our lives. My grandmother gave me presents of Corgi and Dinky cars so my acquisition of little cars began when I was just 6 years old. Some of my collection over time became wreckage in the waged sandbox, fire cracker and flailing hammer wars. Such delight! Oh to have a few of those diecast treasures back!
I recently re-discovered my first flamed piece found in a box of my childhood matchbox cars: a white MG with the little metal tan painted man seated inside. I had stolen some flame decals from my older brother’s plastic model kit and made my very first mixed up “hot rod” when I was 10. It seems that my fate was sealed!
Teenagers aren’t supposed to play with little toys (but we all know differently now or tell ourselves justly so) but Hot Wheels Redlines were my favorites in 1968. Collecting ceased for 20 years until 1988 when my small children were asking for trips to the toy store. Yes, I must admit, I may have after a while initiated a few of those trips.
I have been flame painting miniature multiple scale diecast cars and trucks for 18 years. My metal canvas’ have included offreings from Hot Wheels, Johnny Lightning, Maisto, New Ray, Matchbox, Motormax, Jada, SpecCast, Racing Champions, Road Champs, and others. I have immersed myself in the history of the artfrom and have painted to date over 600 diecast cars. In doing so I also authored a history book: Up in Flames: The Art of Flame Painting (Motorbooks MBI 2006) celebrating the art and lives of 18 famous flame painters. I also designed my own series of diecast cars for Greenlight Toys in 2008 and 2009 in both 1:64 and 1:24 scales.
My taste for cars is unending.  Hot rods and customs –No Doubt! I also love vintage racecars from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Sure there are those who would cry  “Oh Blasphemy! You painted pyro on a period Porsche! How could you torch a classic T-Bird? Festering Fire on a Ferrari?—why that is just wrong!” Perhaps for you but not for me! No metal surface is safe from my torching touch; my flame palette includes traditional, tribal, streamer, crabclaw, cryptic, reverse and combinations of each style smothered on my rods and customs, coupes and sedans, exotic and period racecars, tuners, and trucks and deliverys.
“Hurray for hand painting, down with decals-lol!” Here is how I paint flames on my miniature cars. Each car layout is sketched outlining all seams, door jambs and window openings. Flame ideas are sketched in pencil on tracing paper, cut out and laid onto the car for placement. Adhesive frisket paper is laid over my finalized flame sketches and flames are cut out with a fresh Xacto blade. The newly created stencil is placed on the car’s side panels and hood. Once the stencil is pressed into place, the rest of the car is masked to protect it from overspray. Colors in the desired fades are applied with an airbrush. The stencils are removed and flame edges are sharpened and smoothed with thinner and a fine brush. The final step involves pinstriping around all flame edges with sign painters’s enamel on a very small script liner sable brush.
’49 to ’51 Mercurys:

Lowriding, weed-whacking, leadsleds tug heavily at my heart strings. The rod-recipe that cooks up this fantastic ’50s favorite is a long, smooth and curvaceous body dechromed, sectioned, chopped and lowered to within inches to the ground and fitted with “cruiser skirts” Add a big and wide toothy grin with vertical grille teeth from a period Chevy or DeSoto or make sweet music with its standard harmonica grill. Now, liberally smother on gallons of candy, metallic lacquer paint all hand-rubbed to perfection.  Mount some “wide whites”, accented with hubcaps from “back-in-the-day” De Sotos and Cadillacs and add some lakes pipes. Finally roast the roadbeast with flames–lots of flames–swirling over the hood and spilling over the side panels!
Choices, choices, so many flame choices!

Flames impart a personal expression, depending upon what style is painted by individual artists: Tribal flames, based on the Polynesian, Oriental and Tattoo cultures, are noted for their sweeping ragged shapes, curved edges and sharp points, facing all directions. Cryptic flames can be edgy and menacing with triangular and jagged shapes punctuated with highlights and shadows for a 3-D effect.  Traditional flames can be flowing and relaxed with long streaming stems and “swimming tadpole” center hubs.

’49 and ’55 Cadillacs

Beginning in 1949, concept cars looking for public approval were paraded around the General Motors Motorama, a traveling car exhibit and “circus,” complete with entertainers and hi-jinx. With cars spinning on motorized platforms and orchestral music providing an ambiance over the loud chatter of and “ooo’s and ahs,” these luxury hotel ballroom-based car shows provided a look into the unrestrained minds of automobile designers of the day. Eight Motoramas were staged between 1949 and 1961.
Modeled after the twin rudders of the Lockheed P-38 aircraft that Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell had seen at a Detroit area Air Force base in 1941, the ’49 Cadillac was born. It sported small designer fins giving way to the stubby fins that would soon grow to magnificent proportions in the late ’50s. These were not fins but “tail lamps in the upswing.” Earl was the founder of GM’s Art and Colour Department in 1928. LaSalles, Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevys, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs all found their place under his thoughtful pencil and guiding eyes. Increasingly fatter and stubby “shark fins” adorned models in 1953 through 1957.  Earl retired in 1959 along with Cadillac’s far fetching, pointed and high-towering thin fins.
Traditional flames cover two 1:64 scale examples by Jada. Four Motormax ’55 Caddys in 1:43 scale are painted with Crabclaw, Seaweed and Traditional flame styles.
Crabclaw flames were made famous by such notables as Von Dutch, Dean Jeffries, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Larry Watson. Throughout the ‘50s, with their pincher-like tips, these short and stubby flames put the squeeze on a variety of trucks, rods and customs and have recently enjoyed a comeback on old deuces, tubs and any number of street beaters and rat rods.
Larry Watson was also the originator of Seaweed flames in the late ‘50’s. Long flowing frond like stems lushly swooped over period Buicks and Chevys. The stems can be quite broad, covering what may seem like acres of side panels and roof terrain! Watson is also known for his tight scallops and energetic and geometric panel painting of the same time period, still popular today on rods, customs and lowriders.

The truest form of Traditional flames has been in existence since the late ‘50s; one of its first pioneers is Rod Powell of Salinas, California.  Rounded hubs (flame centers) and smooth flowing symmetrical stems characterize this flame type. After 40 years, Rod’s beautiful flame work, resembling swimming tadpoles, is still like that he drew on his high school notebooks. Traditional flames seem right on the side of any ride!

’61 to ’66 Ford Thunderbirds:

Designed by William Boyer, this razor sharp sports-roadster sports minor “knife blade” fins, low and sleek unibody construction and “afterburner” rear tail lights tucked into an unadorned chrome bumper. The afterburner feature was first seen on the futuristic concept ’59 Cadillac Cyclone on the showcar circuit. It was powered by a A 390 V-8 engine. A large and heavy (takes two to remove) fiberglass tonneau cover, hid the convertible top and very small back seat. This option was part of the Sports Roadster series. Moving ahead: the 50-year “fair game” rule is taking strong effect. Classic cars of the 60’s, like the ’62 and ‘66 Thunderbirds, are showing up on the drawing boards of car stylists, posing possibilities for custom car guys—the new cruising lead sled—why not!
My roasted birds are in 1:43 scale made by Solido and Motormax, each painted in traditional flames in varied color treatments.
Delivery Trucks

Who doesn’t love a good truck! For 40+ years delivery trucks were used for making the daily rounds before their rebirth in the hot rod show world of the ’70s and ’80s. They have been lovingly called: grocery getters, hay haulers, widget wagons, cream carriers, medic movers and pokey patrol panels. Like its pickup twin, it has a brutish and muscular look! What distinguishes “panel” from a “sedan” delivery is that a panel has two rear doors while the sedan has just one.  Panels are generally truck-based while some sedan deliverys are passenger-car-based. Delivery trucks have morphed into MPPM’s AKA multi-purpose people movers or minivans.
Racing Champions, Jada and Maisto in 1:64, 1:43 and 1:24 scales provided the perfect pyro canvas’ for my flaming fair all painted with 1-shot sign painters enamel with an airbrush and a script liner sable brush.

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