Shop Local: Art by Alanna Rivera
The Arlington painter specializes in portraits of families, pets, home exteriors and more.
It’s not often that the path to becoming an artist is kick-started by a dog-sitting gig. But the part-time job Alanna Rivera picked up in 2012 while studying literature and Spanish at the University of Virginia was just what she needed to remind her of how much she loved painting.
“I started doing pet portraits because I love dogs, and I was surrounded by them,” says the Arlington native. “I felt like I was waking up, almost. Everyone already identified me as an artist, but I didn’t identify as one myself.”
After college, Rivera dabbled in art on the side and spent time doling out career advice to high schoolers through the AmeriCorps program. Finally she mustered the courage to enroll in a master’s degree program at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, focusing on social justice-based arts. “Even though it was really scary, and there wasn’t a lot of job security, I decided to take the plunge,” she says.
Rivera moved back to Arlington in 2017 and taught art in her own childhood preschool—an experience she now draws upon to teach art to neighborhood kids while juggling commissioned portraits of families and pets, as well as home exteriors and even antique cars. She also paints playful subjects ranging from mythical creatures to movie characters. Before Covid, she did occasional mural projects inside clients’ homes.
“I like having as much variety as possible because it makes me a stronger painter and also keeps me from getting bored,” Rivera says.
Her acrylics on canvas range in price from $200–$500, but she also offers a smaller (6-by-6-inch) portrait option painted with gouache (an opaque watercolor) for $50. She says she wants to keep her artwork accessible to all.
Though most of her portraits are based on a photograph, her style isn’t so much about copying the picture as it is capturing the essence of the subject.
“I want there to be a feeling conveyed, more than a look,” she says. “I think that’s more powerful for me than creating anything that’s photo-realistic.”