If you had to give yourself a new name, what would it be? For Cindy Chen-makeup artist, graphic designer, and A&S ’16-this question played a role in her identity as an artist, as she took the time to consider what pen name would capture her personality. She finally decided on “Opal” and used the name in creating her blog, Opal’s Catharsis.
“The name Opal’s Catharsis comes from my pen name Opal, and catharsis as my way of conveying emotions and inner feelings about art and life through the lens of a creative mind,” Chen said. “Opal is a gemstone, and it’s a color. It’s something ambiguous, something interesting-and I like that.”
Chen started her blog to document and share her talents in makeup artistry, which all began with a project in her senior year of high school. She was challenged to create something completely out of the ordinary, so she decided to take up a face-painting project. After watching YouTube video tutorials of artistic makeup, Chen was inspired to explore possibilities beyond her class project and now uses makeup in conjunction with photography to tell a story.
Chen often adds graphic elements and uses post-production processing techniques in order to add to the imagery of her pictures. She taught herself graphic designing during her freshman year of high school, and currently utilizes her skills as the creative director in the Office of Press Secretary for UGBC, designing posters and fliers for big events such as the Annual Ball.
Chen is inspired by traditional artists-too many to name, she said-and especially by optical illusions that are integrated into the picture. Most importantly, Chen explained, she wants to ensure that all types of beauty are conveyed through her work.
“A picture tells a story, but the story can be interpreted in so many different ways,” she said. “[I like] showing beauty through a different lens because I believe makeup should be worn to enhance a human’s beauty, rather than to mask it.”
The storytelling aspect is essential to Chen’s photography-she often adds narratives or social messages along with her photos. Most recently, she wrapped up the final stage of the “Heartbreak Series,” a semester-long project that was suggested by a friend. The photo collection aims to portray the stages of heartbreak-something Chen believes most people connect with. The “Heartbreak Series” starts with anger, the first of these images showing a model wearing a bird-like mask punctured with red feathers and accentuated with red and black makeup.
“I’ve seen very explicit anger being expressed and I’ve seen the quiet versions,” Chen wrote on her blog. “My girl wears her pain with a mask … The mask brings a mystery. She plays the role of a naive bird, timidly but sensually watching you from afar.” The final stage, in which Chen herself was a model, captures the “crystallization of experience,” and she conveyed this with crystals and pearl beads adorning her face, creating striking contrast with black lips and dark eye shadows.
These narratives add another dimension to Chen’s artistry-her photos take on a lyrical significance. The Heartbreak Series, along with her other posts, are still very personal, but Chen recognizes that the blog has gained exposure beyond its initial following.
“I didn’t expect my blog to have as much popularity as it did, across BC especially,” she said. “I didn’t know that many people would be interested in that sort of stuff-it was just me showing my friends at home what I was doing.” Chen grew up in the Philippines and attended an international school in Manila, and hence her former classmates live all over the world. She has contacted some of these friends to take photos of students on their campuses and hopes to feature them in her upcoming fashion section, expanding the scope of the blog to feature more than just makeup artists.
Chen’s draws her inspiration across various mediums of art-Alexander McQueen, for example, influenced her in an unexpected way, as she attempted to translate the styles of his clothing into her makeup designs. The popular Humans of New York page encouraged Chen to expand her blog. She plans to launch a new section called “The Witty College Lookbook,” highlighting students on college campuses who break the norm of conventional style.
Although she claims that people call her a “weirdo” who wears mismatched clothes, it’s clear that she knows her fashion-her room is full of magazine clips and inspiration boards, and she occasionally blogs about different styles.
“When I wake up, the first thing I want to see is fashion,” she said. Chen describes her own aesthetic as “chick-rocker,” incorporating blacks, leather, and eye-catching statement pieces such as studs, necklaces, or printed pants. “My secret passion is to go into fashion grad school,” she added, hoping to pursue the advertising, marketing, and business aspects of the fashion industry.
While there’s potential to monetize her work, Chen continues to pursue passion before commercialization. She encourages other aspiring artists to stick to what they love, regardless the field.
“If you like photography, go ahead, girl!” Chen said. “Do what makes you happy. If you don’t, that’s fine. Whatever it is, just pursue it. If it’s what you like to do, even if it’s not your major, just do it.”