Art & Design


The Inspiring Zen Pencils

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After eight years in the corporate world, Gavin Aung Than tore off his necktie, left the office job and went on to be a full-time illustrator and cartoonist. That story’s awesome enough, but Than’s current project Zen Pencils offers many more injections of inspiration.

Than takes invigorating quotes from historical figures and cultural icons and illustrates a comic around them, either featuring the speaker of the quote or applying the quote to a fictional situation. This synthesis is very effective, and the process and artist behind it is well worth a little further examination.

“I was looking for a project that would combine all of my interests – cartooning, design, illustration, history, science and pop-culture into one dream project.” he explains.

Than’s wide variety of interests are reflected in his process for choosing quotes. “I’m willing to adapt almost any quote from historic figures, comedians, athletes, poets – as long as the message is positive or makes me use my brain…plus I don’t have to worry about running out of material because I have the whole of history to draw upon.”

Zen Pencils has found enough fans to support Than away from the nine to five world (“it’s generating enough income to cover maintenance costs, but not enough to retire and move to the Bahamas”), and some recent strips have become viral hits.

Than cites this strip based on a quote by Neil Gaiman, which led to the author championing the work on Twitter. Income and endorsements are great, but Than’s goals for Zen Pencils are higher-level.

“I was trying to think of ways to create comics for people who don’t normally read them and maybe even help some readers who are looking for inspiration.”

If you’d like to see some lovely cartooning, or just need a bit of a muse, you should check out Zen Pencils.



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