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Zen Pencils sets out to inspire with quotes-turned-comics

Ever been annoyed with those quotes pasted on random pictures of sunsets on your Facebook or Twitter feed? Well, here is a better-looking, more inspiring alternative.

Since the beginning of 2012, webcomic Zen Pencils has been taking uplifting or encouraging quotes and doubling the inspiration quotient with a comic or a one-panel picture.

Created by Australian-born Gavin Aung Than, whose heritage is Burmese, the webcomic has infused new life into the words of just about everyone, from resistance icon Aung San Suu Kyi to astronaut Chris Hadfield to physicists Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman to the anonymous authors of centuries-old Zen proverbs.

Gavin granted GMA News Online an interview via e-mail.

Q: How did you get the idea for Zen Pencils? Why illustrate inspirational quotes and what kind of inspirational quotes are you looking to illustrate?

A: I noticed how inspirational quotes were being shared all over the internet. My Facebook feed was full of them. But I always thought the way they were presented was poor and did a disservice to the speaker of the quote. The words would often just be superimposed over a picture of a sunset, or trees, or the ocean. I thought turning them into comics was a unique way to present the quotes that no one had really seen before.

I look for any quotes really, there's no policy—except maybe nothing too negative. It just has to be something I enjoy, something that makes me think, laugh or cry.

Q: Why a webcomic? What other media did you dabble in before deciding on this format?

A: Well I've always wanted to be a professional cartoonist. I had worked in the newspaper industry and had small success getting some comics published but I could see there was no future there. The internet is the best place to get your work seen and I knew that webcomics was one of the only ways for a cartoonist to make a living, but it's still incredibly difficult.

Q: What is a typical day for you like?

A: I normally wake up around 7 a.m., check the website, take care of email/facebook/twitter etc. I walk my dogs then start working on my comics after lunch. Depending on what stage I'm at I'll keep working for the rest of the day and sometimes into the night. I'll have dinner and spend time with my wife and then try to squeeze in another 1-2 hours of work before bed.

Q: If you have ever had days when you did not find joy in drawing, what have you done to get that joy back?

A: Good question. Yes, some days the creative juices just aren't flowing and I don't really feel motivated to draw. But part of being a professional is that you have to keep working during these periods. The work might take a bit slower, but it still needs to get done. There's no time to let the inspiration come to you, you need to force it out!

Q: What do you find particularly difficult to draw and how have you overcome this, if ever?

A: I'm really not fond of drawing animals—I always need a lot of reference pictures. I'd be lost without Google Images sometimes. I also don't like drawing feet—you'll notice a lot of figures are conveniently cropped at the knees or higher.

Q: Why do you think Zen Pencils appeals to a lot of people?

A: I think it just comes down to the fact that they make you feel good. Creating any emotional response with art is a very powerful thing to do, and the comics help people get motivated or just puts a smile on their face. This also makes readers want to share them with their friends or family who they think will benefit from the quote or comic.

Q: Who are your artistic influences? Which are your favorite comics and why?

A: Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes is my all-time favorite comic strip and has left the biggest influence. Watterson just managed to capture the magic of childhood and created so many wonderful worlds inside the head of one little boy. The writing and art on the strip was exceptional and I still read the archives regularly.

Jeff Smith's Bone was fantastic—his brushwork and cartooning skill is something I always strive for.

Also, the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki have always been a big influence—his imagination and skill as an artist is something I'm in awe of.

Q: Do you have any plans for a comic book in the future?

A: I would love to create an original graphic novel or picture book in the future. Right now, I'm very happy focusing on Zen Pencils, but in order to grow as a cartoonist I know I will have to do something completely original. Nothing planned as yet.

Q: Any tips for the aspiring web comic writer/illustrator?

A: There are no shortcuts. This may sound obvious, but if you're an artist, draw lots and lots. Draw until your hand hurts and your eyes are bloodshot. Just keep honing your skill and you will eventually improve. This could take years but it's the only way.

Once you are at a decent level, use the internet to show your work. Join a illustration/writing/cartooning/painting online community and get feedback from other skilled people, not just family and friends. You'll need a thick skin, because your work won't be great to start.

Find other people at the same stage as you and set yourself projects and constantly help each other. — BM, GMA News

Images used with permission from Zen Pencils.

Zen Pencils updates every Tuesday. Submit a quote you'd like to see illustrated.