There's a sure-fire way to make everyone not just notice a car but recognize it as something cool, something special, something menacing: paint flames down the sides of it.
Yeah, there's something about fire on cars that makes people look. It creates a type of tension; fire emanating from cars usually has an inauspicious outcome. But cars themselves are born of fire; blast furnaces use it to render iron from ore. The internal-combustion engine itself relies on fire to transform chemical energy into heat and pressure. And likely because of its association to cooking we tend to think of fire as power itself: The one who can command a great fire will eat well and, presumably, attract mates. And if you think about it, most guys have fooled themselves into thinking the same way about their cars. Suckers.
The trick, of course, is wielding fire appropriately. We know a lot about the paint part if only because of the collision industry. But the flames themselves don't have a legitimate counterpart like that; they require a little bit of artistry and as your dad, math teacher, guidance counselor, drill sergeant, and department supervisor probably told you over the years, artists are good-for-nothing bums. We need someone to tell us how.
Meet Art Himsl, artist. In his role as good-for-nothing bum he's made a respectable career by shooting dramatic, compelling, beautiful, awe-inspiring, complex, and—here's the key—coveted paintjobs for more than half a century. Though it's unfair and likely impossible to pigeonhole him as a specific type of painter, he's developed a cult-like following for his flamework. "I flamed my first car sometime in the 1950s," he says. "It wasn't much of anything to look at of course; you could call it my first attempt." He was in high school.
Recently we got an enviable opportunity. Our pal Mike Chase followed along as Himsl flamed Vic Edelbrock Jr.'s 1932 five-window coupe, from United Pacific Industries, a closing step in a Brizio build ("Edelbrock keeps Roy busy building cars and Roy keeps me busy doing flames," he notes). It's a rare and valuable chance as craftsmen who've elevated their work to art-like status are willing to reveal just how they get their trademark look. But this month and next Himsl will reveal the basics of a successful flamejob.
We're also going to take the opportunity to show some flame styles. Not all are famous or even noteworthy but they offer ideas for would-be flame sprayers. Himsl himself even reveals some of the more nuanced elements of a successful flamejob.
Armed with this information, anyone with access to spray equipment can successfully lay down hot licks, no drama or insurance claims required.
Himsl's Flame Theories
No quality craftsman does a job without pondering its reason and over the past half century Art Himsl has found countless opportunities to ponder what separates the great from the ordinary. What follows are a few of his observations.
Chances are the louvers in this hood came after the paint and the flames inside and out we
"The flames should fit the vehicle whether it's a hot rod or a custom car, or whatever. It's like doing any other graphic; you want the car to look lower or longer or sleeker or meaner or whatever you're going for. For a while guys were doing this helter-skelter graphics that had nothing to do with the shape of the vehicle they were putting it on. I wondered what was wrong with those guys. They did nice work but they didn't take the car's shape into consideration.
"For a flamejob to look good you can't use the same shape over and over," he emphases. "I've seen guys take one flame and just move it down the side of the car. It looks like little crab legs down the side. When you lay it out, try to break it up so the flames move differently. Some will go under and others will go over. Just make it so it's not the same shape over and over again.
"The colors in a more modern flame tend to blend smoother into each other and will sometimes have another flame pattern that lays over the flame. Sometimes the other flame pattern will show the base color of the car. In a traditional flame the colors blend sharper and the flames don't stretch quite as far. Anymore it seems like the flames that I do tend to look a bit better when they stretch out a bit. Then you have the tribal flames, like where you have hooks in them.
The “seaweed”-style flame wasn’t new when Dennis Ricklefs shot Sam Hollingsworth’s ’57 Nom
"Certain colors work with certain colors but others just don't. Red can be a hard color to put stuff on. Oranges and yellows go well with red but there are combinations that you just don't want to use. You don't throw like navy blue on (red). It looks terrible. There are certain things you just don't do.
"It's your base color that you have to be careful with. We just did a Willys that was about as radical a flame as I've ever done. The only thing I wish was that the red that was on the car would've been a little different. It was a bit more like an orangey tomato red. He didn't want to use reds and yellows so we ended up using purples and golds. It came out great but that particular red wouldn't have been my first choice—it really limited things. Definitely plan ahead when you're picking your base color. Think of how the colors will look on it. Vic's car has fairly traditional flame. I mean if it was really traditional it would be yellow, orange, and red on a black car. But basically the shape of the flame is pretty classic.
"There are a lot of different styles. What I like best is to meet whoever owns the car and see what they're like. Like there are tribal flames, which are pretty modern. And older more traditional flames tend to be shorter. I just get bored doing the same thing over so I try to change up and do different things."
Each painter brings something to the table and among other things Art Himsl brought depth.
Most graphics have functional origins. Though Jeffries laid down the larger flame pattern
Manuel Reyes brought a level of sophistication to bear on Pete Chapouris’ coupe’s flames.
Though it looks classic the flame on Larry Kline’s Willys owes its sinewy shape, extensive
Style got wacky in the ’70s but cars like Tom Prufer’s Cop Shop coupe forecast a return to
The color transitions are choppy but the pattern Ed Roth used on Tom McMullen’s roadster i