2009-11-20 / Neighbors
ice sculptor makes cold cuts
A former Miss California contestant, Colell’s idea of accessorizing her outfit for work consists of figuring out which of her 13 chain saws would be best for the job and whether her butane torches are fueled up and ready to go.
The 29-year-old has made a living the past 11 years shaping 300-pound blocks of ice into a wide variety of sculptures —from Cinderella’s castle to a Black Hawk helicopter.
A graduate of Newbury Park High School, Colell started sculpting ice 11 years ago because she wanted to do something unique for the talent portion of the Miss Ventura County pageant.
The then-18-year-old college freshman wowed judges during the beauty pageant by carving a flower vase out of a 150-pound ice block.
Colell won Miss Ventura County, but her bid for the ultimate crown—Miss America— was stopped short when she failed to make the top 10 in the Miss California competition.
Regardless, she soon headed off to Oklahoma State University, where she not only earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art but also embarked on a career as a traveling ice sculptor, performing throughout the United States.
Colell said she returned to Camarillo in 2004 to launch her business, Images In Ice.
The college graduate wanted to carve a niche for herself creating elaborate ice sculptures for special events such as corporate dinner parties, weddings and anniversaries.
Her parents, Bruce and Kristi Colell, both retired teachers, gave her the money she needed to start the business from a selfmade studio workshop in Camarillo.
“My parents really helped me out,” Colell said. “My dad was co-owner of the business for a while, but now I own it myself. I’ve paid them all back, and I think I’m finally in the black after five years.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing when Colell decided to become a small-business owner.
She said problems she had to overcome at the outset included learning how to keep the ice from cracking, ensuring her ice blocks were made from only the purest and clearest water—she uses five water filters—and learning how to deliver the gargantuan yet fragile sculptures in one piece.
Despite the setbacks, Colell’s parents had faith in her.
“Dominque has never failed at anything,” Bruce Colell said. “So I knew if that was what she wanted to do, she could do it.”
The ice blocks require 40 gallons of water and take five days to become fully frozen in specially designed freezers.
Because Camarillo’s perennially sunny skies aren’t exactly conducive to ice sculpting, Colell was furthered challenged to find a freezer big enough to store her sculptures before delivery.
She spent $10,000 to buy a walk-in freezer large enough to fit a sedan. There were two slight problems—it came in pieces, and the delivery fees were just north of $5,000.
“I thought she’d spent a whole bunch of money on something that wouldn’t work,” said her dad when asked what he thought when he first saw the unassembled walk-in freezer lying in pieces nearly six years ago.
But, he said, he knew his youngest daughter wasn’t one to back down from a challenge, and soon the monstrous freezer was assembled and running just fine.
At least until the compressor went out and the inside temperature soared to 116 degrees, turning the ice sculptures into warm pools of water.
“It was a nightmare,” said Colell, who learned to master the freezer with some help from her father.
“For the first year, my dad came out every night, three times a night, to make sure the compressor hadn’t gone out and that the freezer was at the right temperature,” Colell said.
More than just keeping the temperature regulated, Colell soon realized the enormous electrical bill that comes with an appliance the size of small house. To help offset those costs— Colell’s electrical bill was nearly $1,500 a month—she installed solar panels at her Camarillo studio to more economically power the freezer.
“It’s not a cheap occupation, that’s for sure,” said Colell, who also earned a master’s degree in education.
Including the time it takes to freeze the blocks and carve the sculptures, she said, the process is very time-consuming. She makes anywhere from one to eight sculptures a week and charges about $350 each for her creations.
Colell said she loves everything about what she does except for one thing.
“What I don’t like is lifting the sculptures,” said the 5-foot-5-inch Camarillo resident.
Her work includes sculptures for a variety of special events. She said her favorite pieces are the ones she makes for weddings.
“I make such personal sculptures, and I love seeing the bride and groom’s reaction,” said Colell, who became engaged this spring.
Colell has drawn quite a bit of media attention. She’ll be featured on a new show about ice sculptors, tentatively called “Icing,” which will air Dec. 6 on The Learning Channel.
She will also be a featured act at the San Diego Zoo, where she’ll perform a dueling chain saw carving show from Dec. 11 through Jan. 2.
“I’ve been doing the delivery business for the past five years, and it’s turned back into the performance business,” she said with a laugh.
Whether it’s carving her ice sculptures in front of a live audience or in her Camarillo studio, one thing is for certain—Colell is a beauty queen who’d take her favorite Stihl 16-inch chain saw over a tiara any day.