HARLINGEN — Leo Rivera, 29, grew up in Harlingen where he learned he was interested in art.

Rivera began painting in high school and has been doing murals professionally for more than a decade now.

He has a background in graffiti and started spray painting when young, so young even his mother had to purchase spray paint for him because he was not able to yet.

“I have always been interested in art, but I feel like it took off in middle school. I was drawing a lot, and I had a teacher who was very supportive and believed in me. And I kept pushing it, and my skills just kept growing,” Rivera said.

For a while, Rivera was creating murals in Colorado where he lived, but he moved back to Harlingen more than a year ago. His first creation was a blue faced girl he did on North A Street. Rivera had reached out to the owner of the building and asked if he was able to paint on it.

“I was inspired by another artist who had done painting on that wall, and I kind of side busted, which means painting next to somebody,” he said.

Rivera just recently painted over his last blue face and created another version for it, a newer one.

He called it a reliving experience and felt like he actually finished it.

“This whole time I felt like it was not really done, and it was a good feeling,” he said.

Rivera was inspired by an old friend for that particular painting, but for this new one, he wanted to show how his skills have improved since then. The new painting has a pink background, which he chose in order to make it pop.

Rivera paid close attention to the gaze, which is something he wanted to emphasize.

“I wanted it to contrast with the blue and catch people’s attention,” he said.

This is not the only mural Rivera has done in Harlingen. Besides the blue face downtown, he did a bigger mural on 1200 N 7th St. That particular image is an angel that has huge wings spread out. The idea had been on his mind for a while, but he needed the space to create it.

“I went to the building owner and asked if I could do it because I thought it was a challenging image, and I wanted to try and paint it, just for the experience,” he said.

“I had never painted an angel before, but I had always wanted to paint an angel with a giant wingspan. And that was the perfect wall for that,” Rivera said.

For projects like that, Rivera works pro bono because it allows him to have total artistic freedom for him to practice.

It took him around two months to finish his angel mural. Most days when he was painting it, he spent at least eight hours working on it. It was difficult for him because he was on a ladder most of the time, but he made it work.

Rivera had done big murals before, but this was his most detailed one so far, he said.

Besides working on projects where he paints for leisure and practice, Rivera also does commissioned work.

Just recently, he painted a realistic image of Michael Jordan inside a barber shop at Valle Vista Mall. Soon, he will be doing Kobe Bryant. Rivera only had two days to do the painting, and he used a projector to get the outline, which was his first time using one.

“I was shocked I actually painted it. I was like, ‘Woah, I did that,’” he said.

Since then, Rivera already has more work waiting for him. He has a part-time job, but eventually, he would want his art to become his full time job.

“I would like for it to eventually pay the bills,” he said.

Since his first time painting in Harlingen, Rivera feels he is more patient now and has learned to enjoy the process.

“I feel like I take my time a lot more. And technically, I am more skillful, but before, I used to rush things. But now, I take my time for the slightest details; I don’t leave until done. It has definitely helped me grow as an artist,” Rivera said.

ecavazos@valleystar.com