As associate professor and medical illustrator at Johns Hopkins University, Tim Phelps has often been recognized for his artwork and scholarly contributions to his field, including more than 40 regional and national awards.
After hours, however, his passion for art takes on a distinctly different direction. For the last 10 years, Phelps has immersed himself in the world of flame painting, studying, researching and leaving his mark on more than 400 miniature cars in the process.
His work and writings on the subject have been featured in more than two-dozen hot rod, toy and art magazines worldwide. Most recently, he authored Up in Flames: The Art of Flame Painting, the first-ever book on the history of flame painting.
“I was frustrated by the lack of information available bout flame painting in my own pursuits,” Phelps explained. “Uncovering the roots of hot-rod flame painting has been elusive as individual artists painted their cars for the sheer joy of it and never thought about recording the work.”
Speaking with the first generation of flame painters gave Phelps the background he needed to write their stories along with the history of flame painting, which he is now passing on to future generations.
“The favored designs are traditional flames characterized by round bodies, sweeping tips, stems and oval-shaped interior hubs,” Phelps said. “While steeped in tradition, my own flame painting continues to evolve.”
That evolution draws upon Phelps’ own life experiences.
“Current collecting of little cars brings happy memories of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars,” Phelps said. “I am still drawn to hot rods, and customs and vintage ’50s and ’60s Grand Prix racecars, big and small. Of course, they must be smothered with fire!
“Finding my way to flame painting has imparted a deep appreciation for an art form in its infancy. In little more than 50 years, this pyro-painting pursuit has all of the elements of a full-blown legitimate art movement.”