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The Future is in Flames: Custom Painted Flames

Bow Tie Nostalgia

John Gilbert Apr 25, 2016
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Yes, the future is in flames, but I’m not talking about how we’re all toast no matter how the next presidential election turns out. I mean flames on custom cars. Yes, flames are coming back big time; cars, trucks, motorcycles, toilet seats, men’s—and women’s—underwear, everything will be going up in flames for 2017 just wait and see.

History is proof that man has been drawing flames nearly since he discovered how to make them. Flames as a graphic design have been around since the dawn of Man in 15,000 B.C., when Paleolithic cavemen drew flames on the walls of the Lascaox Caves in southwestern France. Obviously, there’s not enough room to write the entire history here, so I’ll move on to the mid-1950s when I became enchanted with flame paintjobs.

From the very first issue, my dad read Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, and Motor Trend plus many more car magazines. So, as a result, I was born loving anything that had to do with cars. As soon as the old man set one down I was glancing through his car magazines before I could even read. The effect was that by late 1957 I was in the first grade and getting into trouble for drawing flames on all my class assignments. Every flame painter has his own style of flames he’s famous for. I didn’t know it at the time in 1957, but it was a ’57 Buick featured in Rod & Custom Larry Watson flamed that influenced my future personal style of flames. By 1966, I was custom painting Harleys out of my parent’s garage, and using the nickname my motorcycle buddies gave me for a company name. I never particularly cared for the short flames seen on fire-log bags. I preferred to do long stringy flames from end-to-end.

Upon returning to the United States in 1974 I got a job painting for Larry Watson at his Melrose and Gower location in Hollywood. It was after spotting the flamed ’57 Buick in Watson’s photo portfolio (scrapbook) that I realized it was Watson that inspired my flame designs. I asked Larry about his style of flames and he said he called them “spaghetti flames.”

Flames Forever—Forever Flames: This column is dedicated to the memory of Larry Watson and Bo Huff.


In 2006, I became the editor of Custom Classic Trucks and put a photo I shot of Larry Watson pulling on Bo Huff’s beard at the first Winfield-Watson show on the cover.



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