This Brawl Produced a Knockout Piece of Art

Ellie Ellis Meets a Competitive Challenge by Producing
 a Relief Fireplace at the Concrete Décor Show

Ellie Ellis, CMS, is an expert in the rare art form of hand-sculpted plaster relief.

By Diane Capuano Franklin

No one put on boxing gloves, but the Brawl in the Fall competition at the Concrete Décor Show turned out to be an intense competition nonetheless. When the first Brawl took place in 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas, an unlikely contender was Ellie Ellis, owner of Elite Artistry in Happy Valley, Ore.

While highly skilled in working with plasters, Ellie had very little experience in concrete and cement prior to the competition. However, much like another infamous underdog by the name of Rocky Balboa, Ellie and her team emerged as champions with a gorgeous cast-in-concrete fireplace mantle rendered in an elegant medieval theme.

Ellie, center, with two of her team: Kelly Peterson at left and
Hopkins at right.

Highlighting a Lost Art
Ellie is a decorative artisan, sculptor, mold-maker, master certified stenciler and instructor whose expertise in hand-sculpted plaster relief puts her in a rare class of artists.

“This is a lost art,” she explains. “I received my inspiration for this type of work while living in Europe for eight years and was enthralled with the ornamentation and relief work I found in many old homes, castles and churches. I fell in love with type of craftsmanship, and I have been studying it for years.”

A member of the International Decorative Artisans League, Ellie first learned about Brawl in the Fall when looking for details about the 2014 IDAL annual convention and discovered that the convention would be co-located with the Concrete Décor Show. She filled out an application to compete in Brawl in the Fall and was delighted—as well as a little apprehensive—to learn that she would be heading one of the eight teams pre-selected for the event.

Ellie Ellis works on coloration of the fireplace project.

An Ambitious Project

Ellie’s initial apprehension was understandable, since she had chosen a particularly ambitious project. She would be attempting to recreate a relief fireplace that she had originally made for her home. The original fireplace had taken more than 200 hours to complete, but at the Concrete Décor event, she would have just three days.

Ellie Ellis works on coloration of the fireplace project.

While Ellie was permitted to have up to eight people on her team, Ellie knew it might be difficult to recruit enough artists to help her since many would be at class during the hours in which the competition was occurring. Plus her lack of experience with concrete and cement concerned her a bit.

Nonetheless, Ellie forged ahead. As permitted by the competition’s rules, she made several molds ahead of time to expedite the process.

“Knowing I would have only 24 hours over three days to complete what had taken me basically 10 times as long to do originally, I decided to cast molds of the different fireplace features and ship the cement casts to Fort Worth,” Ellie explains. Additionally, she sent the dimensions of the fireplace to the event sponsors, who built an 8-by-6-foot fireplace on which she could apply the cement overlay and casts.

Working Hard in Fort Worth
When Ellie arrived in Fort Worth, she quickly got to work. Fortunately, she had found three former students who were attending the Fort Worth event and available to participate on her team: Kelly Peterson, Michelle Hopkins and Kristina Letson.

Among the products she used in creating the fireplace wall was Flex-C-Ment vertical wall microtopping, which made the surface look like real stone and also provided the advantage of being easy to trowel and sculpt. “I could have used one of my plasters, but since this was for the Concrete Décor Show, I knew I had to use a cement-based product,” Ellie reports. “I chose Flex-C-Ment because it was white, and it reminded me of a Japanese plaster I had used in the past.”

In addition, Ellie was grateful for the sponsorship of Modern Masters, which supplied Texture Effects, Wall Glazing Cream and Wall Glazing Cream Color in Tobacco for the project, as well as the sponsorship of Polytek Corp.

Over the three-day timeframe for the competition, Ellie and her talented assistants worked hard, in full view of other attendees, to create a fireplace that was a sight to behold. She was truly gratified by the many IDAL members who stopped by to offer words of encouragement and support.

When the work was completed, Ellie waited anxiously for the announcement of the winner and described herself as “blown away” that an esteemed panel of judges had determined her design as worthy of first place. Her first-place victory earned her $5,000 in cash and prizes. Her win also was featured as part of an article in the Concrete Décor magazine and website.

The use of molds, such as this one of
the mermaid for
“The Ocean of Life,”
bring efficiency to complex and
time-consuming projects.

Demonstrating The Advantages of Molds
Molds were an important component of this project and played to Ellie’s strength in the art of mold-making. “I first started mold-making back in 1989 to replicate my art work,” she reports. “Since then, I’ve created more than 400 molds for use in my relief work.”

Ellie’s eventual goal is to create an online catalog for selling her molds and getting into the hands of other artists and craftspeople who may be interested in doing decorative relief. “This turned out to be a great opportunity to demonstrate how molds can simplify an otherwise complex and time-consuming project,” she says. “It was validation that my molds will work and enable other decorative artists the ability to complete beautiful projects in a short amount of time. It also gave me a deep sense of satisfaction to know that others see beauty in my work.”

Ellie and Eva Gallant get into the spirit of Brawl
in the Fall
with their nautical-inspired attire.

An Inspirational Encore
As the inaugural winner of the first Brawl in the Fall, Ellie was asked to return and defend her title for the 2015 competition, which was held in conjunction with the Concrete Décor Show in Indianapolis. Eva Gallant (a past student of Ellie’s) found out about the competition and asked Ellie if she could assist her this year. Eva thought it would be a great opportunity to be privately mentored and tutored by her teacher.

Ellie created “The Ocean of Life,” a vertical concrete relief sculpture using more than 60 different molds in an 8-by-8-foot piece depicting the classic tale of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Polytek Corp. and Modern Masters once again were team sponsors, with new sponsors for 2015 including BITY Mold Supply, Deco-Crete, David Kriel and Ted Grant.

With the intention of donating the piece to a center that assists battered and abused women, Ellie used The Little Mermaid’s story to communicate how important it is for women in abusive relationships not to give up their voice. The moon in the piece depicts the light of hope, while the ship represents the importance of moving forward to find one’s dreams. 

Ellie and Eva with the in-progress “The Ocean
of Life” at the 2015 Brawl in the Fall.

Ellie finished in third place in the 2015 competition, which earned her cash and prizes valued at $2,000. Ellie split the prizes with Eva and then gave the balance of her prizes to a team of young artists who also competed. Her reward was again demonstrating the value of mold-making in creating beautiful works of art in cement. She and Eva also brought attention to the plight of abused women with coverage by a local TV news channel.

At the 2015 Brawl, Ellie Ellis and Eva Gallant completed this
project, “The Ocean of
Life,” based on the original classic tale
of The Little Mermaid.

Providing Solace
As a decorative finisher, Ellie sees beautiful sculpted reliefs and other forms of art as solace from the harshness of our world.

“My objective as an artist is to create and spread beauty, defined not only in how it looks, but also in how it makes you feel," she says. “I want my clients to feel more comfortable and more connected to their surroundings.”


Upcoming Classes
By Ellie Ellis

In March, Ellie will be teaching at Deco Crete Supply in Orrville, Ohio. From April 4-9, she will be teaching how to replicate her “Ocean of Life”  relief in Tucson, Ariz., at Cindee Lundin's studio, using Ellie’s molds and EZ Chem products. She will also be teaching at the Concrete Décor Show in San Diego at the end of September 2016.

If people are interested in learning from Ellie the art of relief and mold-making, she also teaches private lessons from her home studio. Call (503) 801-3017 to schedule a private class.

Ellie is also an instructor. Here she is, teaching a class called “The 3 Masters of Bas-Relief” along with Bonnie Norling Wakeman and Cindee Lundin.