Meet the Artist Behind Our February Cover Art

We love our cover so much that we are certain you’ll want to meet the person who created it.

Photos by Pearl Nemecek

GABRIELA (CHANCHITA) RIVERO is a born and raised Milwaukee illustrator, designer and all-around artist. She also recently designed the February cover of Milwaukee Magazine! Her bright and vibrant colors combined with her signature style drawn from Latinx heritage and mythological history tell stories unique to her voice. We sat down with her to just talk about her work for our February cover story. 

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Photo courtesy of Gabriela Riveros

What was your inspiration for the cover?

Milwaukee Magazine came to me for the Unity Awards, and for me that was the first jumping points. When we were sketching concepts there were a few different ideas I had highlighting community and Milwaukee. I had drawn clasped hands for a few other projects and they really resonated with that. Clasping hands is one of the more popular designs for unity and connecting. I wanted to expand on that, so I decided to go with adding flowers that connected the hands together. That to me symbolized not only unification but also growing together, because that is supposed to be the result of coming together.

What is your reason for using bright colors?

I think that comes from my personal art style. I have always thought in color and did art in color. I’m Latina, so when I connected with Latin American art history, I immediately become super obsessed with other artists who used really bright colors. And I think it is just something that I’ve seen from my own culture that I pull from. I never shy away from colors, especially in this case too. I was thinking about February and everything is white and gray, it would be nice to have something that reminds you of spring that’s coming and just something really fun.

There is a lot of strong feminine energy in many of your other works, would you care to elaborate on that?

It is true that I have a very feminine hand. Maybe it is because I am influenced by other feminine artist, women artists especially in art history. That and I really like the empowerment that can come out of it, and again part of my personal style.

How does your Latinx heritage appear in your art?

I usually do a lot of art that is culturally connected. My family is from Paraguay, so I get really inspired by the traditions that we have there. Like the types of art. I just really like representing how different the Latinx community is and I want people to look at my illustrations and see themselves in it. So, I usually like to bounce around and explore Latin America and pull inspiration from all over to paint the bigger picture and celebrate our differences and similarities. For my BFA thesis I illustrated an anthology of Latin American poetry. I took poems about love and death from all over Latin America, and I illustrated them. When I illustrated the poems, I researched a bunch about them and their inspirations and tried to make it so people could look at the illustrations and be able to identify the traditions the traditional pattern work that comes from their country is how I incorporate those cultural clues in there.

What do you love about mythology?

I think I have always loved storytelling, always loved the magic of it. I have always been super nerdy about reading and getting lost in these magical worlds, and again I have always loved history, so really just get lost in the story. I am fascinated with world-building and escaping to these magical places. I try to incorporate that as much as possible in my work.

How did you get into drawing?

I have pretty much been drawing my whole life. My mom still technically has my first masterpiece I ever worked on which was a spider I drew on my wall when I was three years old, and it has like ten million legs. But I always say that is my first work of art. I have been drawing pretty much my whole life and was lucky enough to go to art specialty school and was allowed to do my thing. I have always been drawing. Always.

Can you tell me about your process of drawing?

I do a lot of research first. Reading, pulling inspiration from images then sketch until an idea comes into my head. Sometimes an idea is already there and I just go straight into drawing something. I usually do a rough sketch then go back in. I do all my stuff digitally, so I am working in photoshop. I’ll go in and start layering in all the colors and getting as much detail as possible.

What was your favorite project to work on? Why?

I think one of my favorite projects to work on was the Watermarks Project, which I think was two summers ago. It is so hard with quarantine time. It is a public art instillation I did along the Kinnikinic River. It was a partnership with the City of Milwaukee where they bring together a group of artists and scientists to do a presentation and collaborate. The sixteenth street neighborhood, community center was the place the artwork was going to go. It was based off water and they are revitalizing the river and it used to be that horrible little cement thing. It looked like a sewer, but it was actually a river, but they were revitalizing it and they wanted a temporary art instillation to go there while they were building around it. They asked a few of us artists to propose ideas and I was super intimidated, because I was newly graduated, and these artists were amazing community artists that had been doing this type of work forever. I was this little post graduate student who just had her iPad and a few sketches. We all set up these presentations and the neighbors came in and got to ask us questions and then got to vote on which artist they wanted, and I ended up being chosen. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I feel like it is so lame, but I always say I like doing more drawing. That’s like all I do. But I just like reading, I like being inspired so I will deep dive into image searching and get into weird rabbit holes of anything. I also DJ which is a newer hobby of mine. 

What do you like about Milwaukee?

I was born and raised in Milwaukee. I have always been in the city. I think what I like about Milwaukee is that I know it really well. It is a tricky city to navigate if you are a transplant, because there are so many different pockets of the city people aren’t really tapped into. It feels very siloed. A lot of that is probably segregation. I feel like there were all of these pockets that I could access, and there are always so many cool things that are going on. It is crazy when you hear about something and you think, how did I not know that was happening. I think a lot of people underestimate Milwaukee. It is always nice to know all the awesome things that are happening.

Is there anything you are excited for in the future?

I feel like I haven’t been looking that far ahead in the future. I am excited to do more personal work. That is something that I have been working on. I haven’t shared much but I really want to get back to making artwork for myself and having the time and dedication to produce something that is on a more complex level than just doing an illustration every once in a while.