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Meet Celia Esguerra and Jim Winstead of Raw Materials Art Supplies

Today we’d like to introduce you to Celia Esguerra and Jim Winstead.

The neighborhood came first for them. All three founders – fine artist/curator James Adams, fine artist/filmmaker Celia and software engineer Jim – are longtime Downtown Los Angeles residents. It all started when Celia wanted to paint a painting but realized there was nowhere downtown to shop for art supplies.

Jim had long dreamed of opening a store on Main Street, so after marrying Celia they enlisted the aid of brother-in-law James and opened Raw Materials Art Supplies in August 2008 during the global financial meltdown and housing crisis. By offering a focused selection of art supplies and actively engaging the community, the store weathered the economic downturn and quickly expanded to full-time hours with our official grand opening in November 2008.

Custom framing services were added in January 2009 in a partnership with Castelli Framing, the go-to custom framers for Los Angeles-area artists such as Shepard Fairey and Mr. Brainwash. It has since become a leading category. Jim left a career as a software engineer at MySQL soon after opening the store to work as their General Manager, and Celia continues to work as a filmmaker while handling the store’s Marketing duties. James Adams left the company in 2013 to pursue his artistic interests but remains their brother-in-law and a faithful customer.

From day one, Wonton, their Shih Tzu and the unofficial Mayor of Downtown Dogs, has worked alongside them at the store. Bringing Wonton to work has been one of the best marketing decisions they made. Customers come in specifically to see Wonton, and they bring their dogs knowing they can shop in a dog-friendly environment.

In 2014, they launched the annual Los Angeles Plein Air Festival, a celebration of outdoor painting and sketching. Every year 150+ artists from throughout Southern California gather in DTLA to paint their iconic architecture, chronicling the changing skyline and capturing street scenes in what is now the largest urban plein air festival in the country. They are currently celebrating their 9th year of business and will continue to focus on delivering a top-notch customer experience.

Has it been a smooth road?
The road has not been smooth. The art materials retail industry is quite mature and many of the relationships between stores and arts organizations are… well-worn. This is both a challenge and an opportunity, as many of these long-term relationships are marked by a degree of complacency that we can exploit – as long as we are more proactive and make use of our size and flexibility compared to our competition.

Ultimately, we are driven to dispel the stereotype of the over-priced, poorly- stocked, difficult-to-deal-with independent store. We have experienced success by pricing aggressively, maintaining strong relationships with the best distributors, and being open and accessible to professionals, hobbyists, students, and aspiring artists of all ages and stages of their artistic development. Online retailers, Amazon, in particular, are a serious threat.

To remain competitive, Raw Materials will continue to focus on delivering a great customer experience and product selection, while maintaining a strong online presence that focuses on artists’ needs.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Raw Materials Art Supplies is a family-owned and operated fine art supply store in an industry largely dominated by chain stores and impersonal online sales. We offer art materials and custom framing in the heart of Gallery Row, an arts and culture district in Downtown Los Angeles. We’re surrounded by over 50 galleries, museums, theaters, a dozen colleges and universities, and scores of creative businesses The store serves a growing population of 55,000 residents, 500,000+ weekday employees, and more than 10 million annual non-local visitors.

People can purchase art supplies anywhere, so our customer service is the variable that makes the difference. We pay attention, freely share our product knowledge both inshore and online, research customers’ questions, and listen to their concerns. We believe that our attention to personalized customer service, well-rounded product mix, commitment to buying locally, and support for our artistic community has enabled us to defy the odds against a new small business.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Since our opening, Downtown Los Angeles has experienced a commercial and residential renaissance, and we’ve grown lockstep with it. Opening a specialty retail business in Historic Downtown Los Angeles and being Skid Row-adjacent is not without its issues. We absolutely recommend starting out in DTLA but advise all to research what challenges they would likely face, and plan accordingly.

We’ve partnered with many local non-profit organizations and events, including the public art phenomenon known as the Downtown Art Walk (downtownartwalk.org), which draws thousands of visitors to Gallery Row. Thanks to the founder of Art Walk Bert Green and nightlife impresario Cedd Moses, customers enter our store to discover the functional neon sign “Craby Joe’s”, rescued from the fabled Bukowski haunt two blocks away. Other walls show murals by celebrated local street artists Phillip Lumbang III and the Winston Death Squad.

Our storefront windows housed The WindowBox Gallery, a small exhibition space visible from the street and dedicated to solo shows of contemporary art from top-notch artists with local roots: Pascual Sisto’s conceptualist neon sculpture, Hugh Holland’s iconic photographs of 70‘s era Southern California, and Lucas Jackson’s intense photographs of the Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010. The WindowBox Gallery was named “Best Art Gallery at an Art Store” in LA Weekly’s annual “Best Of LA 2011” Awards, but more importantly, it serves as a creative inspiration to our growing artistic community.

We’ve offered discounts to members of the Art Directors Guild, Costume Designers Guild, Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, and supporters of KCRW (the premier National Public Radio affiliate in Southern California), sponsored art exhibits, fundraisers, and partner with the Downtown Center Business Improvement District and the Central City Association’s Small Business Advisory Committee.

By providing discounted supplies, we have also supported the arts program of Skid Row Housing Trust, which develops, manages and operates homes for the homeless of Los Angeles, and the Lamp Art Project, part of Lamp Community, a nonprofit organization that permanently ends homelessness, improves health, and builds self-sufficiency among men and women living with severe mental illness.

So I guess our answer is to be the positive change that improves our city.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Gary Leonard

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Ginny Brideau

    March 29, 2018 at 18:35

    You forgot to mention why I love them so! Jim and Celia are always willing to host the DTLA Girl Scout troops during Fall Product and Cookie Sales! And! And! They are always looking for something for the girls in my troop to do, whether it be volunteering at Plein Air, or looking for art projects! I’d just be a boring ol’ troop leader, teaching them about maps and stuff – if I didn’t have these two! I heart them forever!

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