One of my favourite quotes is from the Dalai Lama, explaining why he is so fascinated by humans – “Because he sacrifices so much in order to make money; then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health; then he is so anxious about the future, he forgets to enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future, he lives as if he is never going to die – and then he dies having never really lived.”
To see it illustrated, in Gavin Aung Than’s inimitable style, in his book Zen Pencils, is even more enlightening as a stressed journalist dashes about gleaning these words of wisdom from the soul of serenity himself. Having been a journalist in the distant past, I quite understand the look on this journalist’s face as he is left floundering in the Dalai Lama’s wake. In the rush to get the story, we often miss the message. But when we do get it…well, it stops us in our tracks.
I had been following Gavin’s wonderful comics based on inspirational quotes for some time when the book came out. I was enchanted by the blending of humour, sharp eyed observation and beautiful words brought together in Zen Pencils – even the name suggested a deeper layer of meaning behind this artist’s work. He lives what he talks about; finding your talent, honouring your path and following your dreams. If anyone ever embodied the dreams of a struggling artist, he does – and he knows how to encourage and inspire those trying to make their own way.
Zen Pencils is a book to delight in, to keep at hand for those moments when inspiration – even a glimmer of hope – seems very far away. Some of Gavin’s most memorable works are in here, cartoons based on quotes from thinkers as diverse and profound as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Thoreau, C.S. Lewis, Vincent van Gogh (another favourite) and Timothy Leary.
“In spite of everything, I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I had forsaken in my discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.” Vincent van Gogh. Beautiful words from a beautiful, deeply misunderstood, man.
Zen Pencils is available from
Image by Gail Kavanagh