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Meet Cindy Chen of Cindy Chen Designs

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cindy Chen.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Cindy. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I got into makeup art when I started college six years ago. It was a means of connecting with my family back home, and an easy way to make new friends. I had a passion project every week that brought together amateur photographers and artists. Through the images, I was able to tell visual stories and later on, I began to realize how much I loved retouching and manipulating them. This eventually led to my career in art directing and graphic design.

I was self-taught in makeup and design, starting with face paint, a digital camera and Photoshop. I am heavily inspired by the avant-garde/high fashion/couture world.

Although fashion design was the center of attention, I was fascinated by how everything—hair, makeup, accessories, set design, posing, framing—worked together to create this visual narrative. It took a lot of practice and watching tutorials, mimicking similar makeup artists/photographers before I got anywhere close to where I am today.

By collaborating locally and using social media to connect with like-minded people, I was able to get more people to notice and appreciate my work. I started getting published in magazines, offers for sponsorships, and invited to shows and competitions. I’m so thankful for the people who believe in me and donated their time on weekends to make beautiful art.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I wouldn’t say it was a huge struggle, but it definitely wasn’t easy. As a student, I had no budget to rent studios, buy lighting or fancy cameras. I was known for doing photoshoots in my bedroom, in front of a white wall or closet door, in communal dormitory lounge spaces with lamps as my only means of lighting, trekking into forests, and finding hidden courtyards after snowstorms.

Now, I have a more stable setup because my boyfriend is also a photographer, and we produce our shoots in a makeshift studio of our living room (already a huge upgrade) with actual photography equipment. But having been pushed to think creatively because of limited resources was a blessing in disguise because it was much more rewarding to see magazine-worthy content knowing the struggle that went behind it.

The only other struggle I can think of is measuring the value of my work. I try to get out of the habit of thinking ‘x’ number of likes equates to how well my work is being received. I always think that I do this to hold onto that feeling of having childhood recess and playtime, but reality does get in the way sometimes. It’s always hard to get your name out there organically, and I want to eventually do this full-time, but that means that I have to think about money.

Monetizing art is the most difficult thing to deal with when all you want to do is ideate and create. But it’s a necessary part of what we do. Hence, I have graphic design as my big girl day job.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Cindy Chen Designs – what should we know?
It’s hard to confine myself to one category. I wanted not to be known as a makeup artist because I wanted to know how to do everything. Although makeup can transform the face wonderfully, it’s only a part of my vision. I pick the theme/motif, design the makeup, hair and costume/accessories, work with a photographer and edit the photos.

I’m definitely known for avant-garde makeup. The idea of wearable art is more enticing that commercial or glamour makeup. In Boston, there aren’t too many makeup artists who choose to do this type of work. A lot of people mistake me for a special effects artist, but I don’t like the sight of blood (real or fake) so I don’t really want to go into gore or prosthetics. I simply want to use makeup like I would use paint on a canvas, except I get to design it on a human face.

If people want to work with me, they aren’t coming to me for a makeup service. They come with an open mind to expect a different type of experience. I work with musicians, photographers, videographers, actors, fine artists and models to make photoshoots, music videos, dance concept videos and anything of the like.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
James Clark, my boyfriend, is my photographer and lighting guy. Even when he’s not shooting he sticks around to help other photographers set up his equipment and assists where he can. He usually feeds me as well, because I tend to forget to do that.

Dan McCarthy, one of my close friends, is another photographer who has never said no to a photo shoot. He was by my side when I began trying makeup art and we went on a bunch of adventures to find amazing locations. Even when he’s not the photographer, he dedicates his amazing videography skills to capture everything that goes on behind the scenes.

I am extremely thankful for all the photographers and assistants I’ve had over the years who were interested in shooting my artwork and collaborating on ideas. Also, all the models that have shot with me have been my muses for each shoot, and I appreciate that each one of them was patient and open-minded about trying different things.

Finally, I’d like to give credit to my fans that reach out and share kind words or critiques. In the world of social media, it is easy to feel like you aren’t really being seen so when someone sends a personal letter saying how much they appreciate what I am doing or gives me feedback, it is the best type of positive reinforcement and motivates me to continue doing what I’m doing.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
James Clark, Dan McCarthy, Ben Flythe, Alex Iby, Saima Lulu, Grace Drinkwater, Angele Marie Anderson, Marybeth Dull, Iliana Tzikas, James Clark

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