Rochelle Cheri Chavez - L.A. Lady Interview

Rochelle Cheri Chavez, Visual Artist and Designer. Interviewed by Michele Carroll.


For those of us who don’t know, give us a rundown of what you do.

In the past I primarily designed functional objects for the kitchen and home. I am currently working on a series of fine art pieces made of wood inlay.

How did you first become interested in design, and specifically woodworking?

I grew up in a very impoverished neighborhood here in L.A. and I was constantly told what I could and couldn’t be in this world. As a kid I had a strong instinct to change that, I wanted to be liberated from those concepts early on. I wouldn’t know it until college but art and design were the two things that did just that. I joined the theater design department in undergrad and picked up a tool to build sets. I was required to design, draft and build every show from start to finish and as my design concepts got more intricate so did my carpentry. Eight years and a shit load of leaning later- here I am, still feeling inspired to woodwork everyday.

You eventually opened your own business with this skill set. When was this?

I opened my design business, Primitive Reserve, in Fall 2012. Under that brand I designed a spectrum of objects such as bowls, serving boards, hat racks, tables etc. At that time I still had a day job as an art director for a corporation and I just wasn’t feeling connected to the work I was doing or to the audience I was making it for. I started Primitive Reserve as an outlet to design something that would be used and loved daily. For a long time it felt really good to design and fabricate my own wares through that brand.


Did you have any previous experience with selling your work before starting your own business?

Nope, I was a newbie to the small business world when I started my company. I had to learn in a trial by error format which suited me well because I’m a stubborn bull.

What were your biggest concerns/insecurities about starting this venture? How did/do you overcome them?

Rejection by the design world! I hustled everyday to design and make products that I believed in. Then, I marketed the shit out of them until someone gave me the time of day in the blogosphere, which just so happened to be the badass, Grace Bonney of Design

What was/is your go-to source that kept you inspired to follow your own path, when starting out?

My mentor, he’s brilliant. I started out as his personal assistant in New York City, he and his rad family basically adopted me when I was lost in that vast metropolis almost 10 years ago! It’s fantastic because he is in the music business and gives me a different view of the world when it comes to business. When I need a kick in the ass or just good ole’ fashion support he’s always been there to be my hype man, I’m very lucky that way.

How has the vision for your work changed from when you first started Primitive Reserve to now?

I had a dream of quitting my job and making shit that I loved which was my only desire when I first started my business. Three years later I’m not as fulfilled by making commodities as I once was, I recently decided that I’m ready to make something more personal to me. I’m not quite there yet though!

What was the first ah-ha moment, when you realized all your hard work was coming together as a reality? 

When my marketing strategy started working across social media, my work was finally being seen! Social media is undeniably one of the major reasons my work has been in print and in stores across the country. I put in A LOT of time getting my work on Pinterest and Instagram. I had no budget for marketing so I sat down, researched, planned and strategized in regards to how I wanted to present my brand. An editor at Bon Appetit Magazine came across my work via Instagram and offered to put me in an issue which was a huge win for me in regards to my social media hustle.

What personal quality of yours do you think has proved most helpful in your career up to this point? Why is that, you think?

I’m a risk taker and often stubborn to a fault. I have to try things myself to see if they succeed or fail. This works in my favor when I wake up with a crazy idea and put it into action, for better or worse.

Did you sense any difference in yourself from before you decided to pursue your own venture to after?

Not so much a difference, I’ve always lived on the risky side of things. I will say that I’ve learned a lot of lessons through Primitive Reserve which I try to take in stride.

What is it about your passion that gets you out of bed in the morning?

Working on a new idea or piece of woodwork usually does the job. Right now I’m developing a new series that is a major departure from what I’ve done in the past. I’ve become slightly obsessed with this new series and am doing a ton of research which is keeping me busy/excited/focused.

What do you hope to have accomplished 5 years from now?

I want my woodwork to visually communicate some bigger concepts, ideas and commentaries that I’ve been thinking about since I was a kid and maybe share them with others in a gallery setting.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Coffee! The rest of the day is either spent drawing, researching or working with my hands! I do try and come up for air by meeting a friend for lunch. I usually take a walk in Lincoln Park which is right next to my studio. If I’m really in a groove I will head back to my studio and work for hours on end!

What advice do you have for those who are on the verge of making a bold career/life decision? 

Do your research on the current state of the industry. Don’t compare yourself or your ideas to others when starting out, it crowds the positive vibes that you should be spending on your new venture.

L.A. Lady Culture

Favorite area of L.A.? East LA all day. I love the grit.
Favorite eatery in L.A.? Best Fish Taco in Ensenada – Los Feliz.
Menu item we must order from there? Shrimp taco plate.
Favorite Happy Hour? Red Lion Tavern
Favorite weekend activities in the city? Hiking Griffith Park.
Audio of choice when sitting in traffic? A good podcast OR 90’s rap
Place or thing you want to do most in L.A., but haven’t yet? Visit the Watts Towers
Biggest L.A. guilty pleasure? The beach!

-Rochelle Cheri Chavez, Visual Artist and Designer

Can you relate to turning a passion into a profession? Tell us your story below and share this with someone you know looking to go out on their own!