Riva Helfond was born in Brooklyn, New York and lived in or near New York City for almost all of her life. She studied at the Art Students League with Morris Kantor, Alexander Brook, Harry Sternberg and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. From 1936 to 1941 she worked in the New York Works Progress Administration Program creating lithographs, woodcuts, etchings, aquatints and serigraphs. She printed all of her own work.
Helfond taught lithography with Jacob Lawrence and Romare Beardon at the Harlem Art Center and was later transferred to the Graphic Arts Division where she worked with Louis Lozowick and Jacob Kainen. She also worked in the silk- screen division supervised by Anthony Velonis. In 1964 she taught printmaking at New York University and after 1980, she was on the faculty of Union College in Cranford, New Jersey.