Interview with Gav from Zen Pencils


Gavin Aung Than is a freelance illustrator in Melbourne. Among other inspiring things, Gav is the creator of Zen Pencils. He takes inspirational quotes from famous people and adapts them into amazing cartoons. As part of Passions month on BITE BACK we asked Gav to tell us about the incredible work he does and why it's important to him.



1) So Gav, this month on BITE BACK we're talking all about people's passions. We've been following your illustrations on Zen Pencils for a while (big fans!) and we're wondering ... is illustrating your passion? Do you have other passions too?

Definitely! I guess I've been drawing for as long as I can remember, whether it be doodling in class as a youngster, taking art in high school and then drawing comics for fun as I grew older. Mind you, it's never been high art or anything, I've always been passionate about 'lowbrow' stuff - cartoons and comics. Of course, I think these disciplines are just as great as painting, photography or sculpture. As for other passions … does pop culture count as a passion? I am obsessed with film, television and books and am also pretty passionate about food and cooking. 


2) You said in your Erica Goldson Graduation Speech post that her message resonated with you. Can you tell us how your path changed between what you thought you'd end up doing when you were in school and now?

Well after school I did what I was 'supposed' to do and what had been drilled into my head since I was a kid. I thought it was impossible to make a full-time living drawing cartoons (especially living in a small town like Perth) so I went to university to study graphic design (a safer option), got a steady job in the design industry and basically worked in an industry I wasn't passionate about for eight years. I bought a house with a big mortgage and was trapped in a job I didn't enjoy to pay the mortgage.

Finally, I had had enough and decided to quit the job and sell the house. I used the profits to give me 6 months of financial security and in that time, I started Zen Pencils. It was a big risk but so far it's worked and I'm finally on the right path I have wanted to be on since I was a kid.  


3) What is Zen Pencils?

Zen Pencils is a cartoon blog where I take inspirational and famous quotes from awesome people and adapt them into comics. It's updated with a new comic every week and I use quotes from great historical figures like Albert Einstein and Mark Twain, and also from contemporary people such as Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman. The purpose of the website is to present these wonderful words in a modern and unique way that appeals to today's internet generation.


4) What about illustrating is important to you? Where do you find the meaning in it?

Drawing comics allows me to be creative and I get to exercise my brain to solve storytelling problems. But above all, cartooning is just fun! I get joy out of creating something new and contributing something to the world that didn't exist beforehand. I don't really find meaning in it, it's just something I like doing. I guess it's up to the readers to find meaning in it.


5) And finally, we're running a competition here on BITE BACK at the moment asking everyone to think about their passions and how they're going to start turning them into a reality. Could you tell us:

What your passion is? (and how you discovered it?)

Drawing comics. I discovered it when I thought it was more fun to draw than to play video games!

What was (or is) holding you back from achieving the most out of it?

Fear. Fear or failing. Fear of poverty. Fear of not paying the rent.

How you're practically going to live your passion?

I'm very lucky to be living it at the moment! I've dedicated myself to a weekly cartooning blog that adapts inspirational quotes into comics.


What an inspirational guy! We'll definitely be following Gav's blog as we do every week. You can see heaps more of his work at 

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