Summit High School student Ella Eland wins Gold Key Award |

Summit High School student Ella Eland wins Gold Key Award

Ella Eland’s “Whoah” painting won a Gold Key Award from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. The 12-by-9-inch acrylic canvas painting is on display until March 28 at the History Colorado Center in Denver.
Courtesy Ella Eland

BRECKENRIDGE — A family vacation turned out to be worth more than just relaxation time. For Summit High School sophomore Ella Eland, it became the basis of a painting that won her a Gold Key Award from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

“I didn’t expect to win anything,” Eland said. The self-taught artist, who sought out the competition on her own, thought more professionally trained students enrolled full-time at art schools would have blocked her from the accomplishment. “I was really excited when I found out.”

The awards organization was established in 1923 and has recognized young creative minds from Colorado for the past 73 years. It breaks down the visual and literary arts into 29 categories — such as poetry, graphic design and fashion — and has awarded luminaries such as Truman Capote, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Andy Warhol and Ken Burns. 

This year, more than 111,000 students submitted nearly 320,000 works nationwide, and there were more than 83,000 regional awards granted in more than 100 local programs. In Colorado, the main exhibition site for the entries is the History Colorado Center in Denver — the hub for the past five years. There are 480 works of art from 14 categories, including Eland’s piece, shown throughout the building until March 28.

Of those students, more than 18,000 Gold Keys advance to the national level and 16 high school seniors will receive the Gold Medal Portfolio, which includes a $10,000 scholarship. Eland will find out March 16 whether she will receive a national award.

Eland’s acrylic painting, called “Whoah,” depicts her younger cousin shortly after disembarking from a ride at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier in Ocean City, New Jersey. It took her about 12 hours to paint, and she thought it was the least likely to win of her submissions.

“I was looking through my photos and saw that one, and … I like her expression and how it really captured her excitement from having just ridden a ride,” Eland said about her decision to turn it into a painting. “I really liked it.”

She submitted it with about five other paintings that are more conceptual in nature, such as women swinging above the clouds. Though “Whoah” was the winner, she wishes to experiment with more abstract images.

The History Colorado Center in Denver is the main hub for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. An awards ceremony will be held at the center Saturday, March 14.
Courtesy Frank Ooms

“In the past, I felt like I have to get as realistic as possible in order to be considered, like, good enough, I guess,” Eland said. “But I found I really like impressionistic style and how loose it is, but you can still convey the same thing as realistic ones; it’s just more artistic. I want to try and loosen up my style a bit.”

The picture was one of many taken during a two-week vacation to New Jersey that her relatives go on every couple of years. Family is important to Eland, and she credits them for support and inspiration. Her mother, Lindsay Eland, is an author, and her aunt, Karen Eland, is an Oregon-based artist who paints with coffee and beer as her medium.

With the arts being all around her, the Breckenridge native can’t exactly pinpoint when and why her creative spark ignited. She does remember purchasing how-to books — like “Lee Hammond’s Big Book of Drawing” and “How to Draw Lifelike Portraits from Photographs” by Lee Hammond — and watching Youtube tutorials when she was about 11 years old.

If You Go

What: Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Regional Awards Ceremony
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March. 14.
Where: History Colorado Center, 1200 North Broadway, Denver.
More: Ella Eland’s painting “Whoah” can be seen at the center until March 28. Visit for additional information and @artisteland on Instagram for Eland’s portfolio.

Drawing attracted her more than other schools of art because of its accessibility.

“I find them just more enjoyable than clay and 3D stuff,” Eland said. “With drawing, all you really need is a pencil to be able to create something. I like having that.”

She took art classes in school every year since. In high school, Sarah Revell taught her photography and drawing, while she learned painting from Karen Fischer. Her teachers have been instrumental in assistance and feedback as Eland worked on the submissions for her first contest.

“Ella is one of the best artists I’ve worked with and one of the most motivated and naturally talented,” Revell said, adding that her biggest growth has been creating works that are entirely her own from start to finish instead of sourcing reference photos from elsewhere. “As her teacher, she’s one of those students where I don’t feel like I can teach her much other than being her support.”

Additionally, Revell taught her business sense, and lent a hand with scanning and framing so Eland could make money as an artist. The school has a partnership with the gallery High Country Artisans in Silverthorne, and Eland has been selling her work there since last summer.

Fischer runs the school’s art club, where Eland has been able to work on Breckenridge Creative Arts projects, such as “Woven Spaces.” The club also will be involved in the upcoming “Between Two Extremes” exhibit at Summit County Libraries’ South Branch.

Summit High School sophomore Ella Eland, right, helps Hiromi Tango and Craig Walsh work on the art installation “Woven Spaces” on Jan. 15 at Breck Create’s Old Masonic Hall in Breckenridge. Eland is in the school’s art club, which will be a part of the Breckenridge Creative Arts “Between Two Extremes” exhibit at Summit County Libraries’ South Branch in April.
Liz Copan /

Aside from baking, arts are really the only thing that interest Eland.

“I prioritize to get my schoolwork done first, and then almost like a reward I get to work on my drawings or paintings,” Eland said of balancing school and hobbies.

The sophomore still has two years to go until college, but Eland already has her eyes set on an art school to stay in the industry. Her dream school is Providence’s Rhode Island School of Design, and she hopes that this award will aid in getting there.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.