I don’t have much to say about this one except that it’s a gift to my wife. We’ve been a couple for over 10 years now, and just like any relationship, we have our ups and downs. We’re definitely not the carefree young lovers we used to be. Life, work, money and children have been stressing us out lately, but amidst it all, we can always count on each other.
This series didn’t start out as autobiographical, but they most certainly turned out they way. Unlike my wife and I, the comic couple don’t have kids … yet.
Today is the launch day of my new collection CREATIVE STRUGGLE: Illustrated Advice From Masters of Creativity! Besides including creative advice from greats like Einstein, Van Gogh, Curie and Hemingway, it also features an all-new comic by myself. The comic describes my eight tips to be more creative, boiled down from six years of working on Zen Pencils (yes, it’s been that long!), but you’ll have to get the book to read the entire comic (sorry for being a tease). I’m really proud of the collection and I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks for all your support!
Happy New Year! What’s your New Year’s resolution? Travel more? Maybe write that book? Perhaps run a marathon? Take up piano again? Start a Side Hustle? “What exactly is a Side Hustle?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s basically a way to generate extra income without quitting your job. The term was popularised by my friend Chris Guillebeau, whose new book SIDE HUSTLE: From Idea to Income in 27 Days was released a few months ago. He also hosts a podcast called Side Hustle School, which updates every day, with each episode featuring an example of someone’s successful Side Hustle (including a woman who started a cat sitting service, which is where I got the idea for this comic from).
The not quitting your job part is important here. I quit my job back at the end of 2011, before launching Zen Pencils at the start of 2012 (six year anniversary at the end of the month!). Thankfully it worked out for me, but looking back on it, it was insanely risky. I had a supportive wife and no kids, but I did have a mortgage that we got rid of by selling our house and going back to renting for a period (like I said, supportive wife). So yeah, if you do have a passion...
Hello lovely readers!
Jeez, can you believe it’s the end of year already? When the hell did that happen?? How has your year been? Mine has been pretty … steady. Career-wise, I’ve continued to work hard on Zen Pencils – most of the year has been spent working on comics that will form part of my new book collection, which I’ll tell you more about later. Personally things have been great, my daughter is keeping me busy and I’ve been helping look after her more as my wife returned to work. I’ve probably struggled a bit to find a good work/life balance – working from home and having a cute little human running around does mean my productivity has dropped a little. But it’s one of the main reasons I quit my job all those years ago to start Zen Pencils, to have more time for family and life so it’s all good.
I’m really excited about 2018. To be honest, I was feeling a bit burnt out creatively recently and wasn’t sure if I could continue Zen Pencils. After over 5 years and 200 comics I was wondering if I had taken this site as far as I can. But after my recent trip to India, and meeting some amazing readers, that really gave me the kick up the butt I needed. It reminded me that I had built something special and meaningful to a lot of people, and the trip inspired me to keep going....
Hi everyone, I’m really excited to introduce my new book collection CREATIVE STRUGGLE: Illustrated Advice From Masters of Creativity. The comics included have never been collected before and will be released on January 16, 2018.
This book collects my recent series of comics on creativity, featuring advice from Van Gogh, da Vinci, Hemingway, Frida Kahlo, Stephen King, Tchaikovsky, Kurosawa, Nikola Tesla, Brené Brown and more.
It also includes a new and exclusive comic containing my 8 tips on how to succeed in living a creative life, boiling down everything I’ve learned from the past five years of being a full-time cartoonist. Here’s the first tip:
Battle creative boredom with Tchaikovsky!
Fight writer’s block with Mary Shelley!
Overcome addiction and creative obsession with Stephen King!
This is a small and affordable book that will give you a boost when you’re trying to break through your own creative struggle or makes the perfect gift for a creative friend.
PRE-ORDER TO WIN BIG!
For your chance to win signed copies of all four of my books as well as an original Zen Pencils ink drawing, simply pre-order CREATIVE STRUGGLE...
William Blake (1757-1827) was illustrating poems hundreds of years before me. A struggling poet, artist and print-maker, unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered one of the most important figures in English literature. A Poison Tree first appeared in his Songs of Experience collection in 1794. Here’s his original piece.
I’ve done so many inspirational comics … that it’s hard not to repeat myself. After my recent bunch of comics focusing on creativity I felt like doing something different and this poem has been on my mind for awhile. Reader Jen emailed it to me years ago and I had no idea how to adapt it, so I kept it in my “to-do” file. Cut to about a month ago and I saw that Rose McGowan tweeted the poem with no explanation amidst the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal. That gave me a direction on how I could adapt the poem. And then a horrific story broke in my home town of Perth about a father who farmed his daughter out to be sexually abused by various men which made me so angry and turned the comic even darker. I know this might be jarring for some readers. It’s not uplifting, inspirational or zen, but it’s a story that came out of me that I felt compelled to draw.
Ah procrastination, something I constantly struggle with. Don’t we all? I’m fighting it right now – I don’t really enjoy writing these blog posts underneath each comic and I always put it off to until the last minute. I know I must do it, but I really don’t want to. As I sat down to write this, my computer was lagging a bit, so I restarted it. Got up to use the bathroom, decided on the way to the bathroom that I needed to fix myself some tea, then paused to read the mail on my kitchen table and of course I had to check the GREATEST PROCRASTINATION MACHINE THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN: my phone. Next thing I know, one hour has passed and I still haven’t started writing.
At least this is not a new phenomenon – Edgar Allan Poe wrote the above words in 1845 and I’m sure an early homo sapien kept putting off a cave painting he knew he had to do thousands of years ago. This passage is taken from Poe’s short story The Imp of the Perverse, the name he gives the creature who forces us to do things we know we shouldn’t. The story is about a man who gets away with murder, and after inheriting his victim’s estate and enjoying his new life for years he inevitably falls...
This comic originally appeared exclusively in my second Zen Pencils book collection (available from all good retailers!) in 2015. I really enjoy writing these fun poems and wanted to do something special for the book. It features characters long-time readers would be familiar with, but just in case you’re not, here are their original appearances:
I thought I’d post it on the website as I’m currently working on the NEW Zen Pencils book collection and I’m not sure when I’ll be posting new work. I’m really excited about the new collection and I’ll tell you more about it in the upcoming months. Thanks for your patience!
I recently wrote a dismissive comment about adult colouring-in books in the Brené Brown ETERNAL STRUGGLE comic. A quite a few readers were angry with me, telling me that they enjoyed working on them, so I thought if you’re going to do some Zen colouring, why not colour-in my artwork! You can download this hi-res PDF of some of my characters to colour-in.
Enjoy, and please tweet or tag me on Instagram if you post your results.
This is the second quote from Brené Brown that I’ve adapted and a semi-sequel to The Woman in the Arena. Brené specialises in creativity, vulnerability and shame and in the blog post where this quote is taken from (it also appears in her best-selling book The Gifts of Imperfection) she writes that like many others, she was disconnected from her creativity until she actively made an effort to embrace it again and make it a part of her life.
And I know, it does sound a bit privileged and pretentious for me to tell people to find time to be creative in today’s world. “Jeez Gav, I have a full-time job, two kids and a house that needs cleaning. I don’t exactly have time to set up the easel and paint a still-life.” I get that, but I’m not telling you to complete the next Mona Lisa or write War and Peace. It could be as small as baking a cake for your kid’s birthday, drawing an anniversary card for your spouse instead of buying one, taking up the piano again after years of not practicing, having a karaoke battle with your friends – it seriously doesn’t matter.
And yes, if you haven’t tried it before or have neglected art for years, your initial attempts will be awful. Absolutely horrible. But that’s ok. Just do it for yourself and not...
Jiddu Krishnamurti knew a thing or two about fame. As a 13 year-old boy in India, he was not ‘discovered’ by a record producer or casting agent, but by one of the leaders of the Theosophical Society. The young boy was proclaimed as the next “World Teacher”, a Christ-like figure that the society had predicted would lead humanity to peace and understanding. The Society took legal guardianship of Jiddu and his brother and began preparing Krishnamurti for his destiny. He was named head of The Order of the Star in the East, an organisation specifically formed to ready the world for its new saviour and Krishnamurti spent the next 19 years travelling with the Theosophical Society, giving lectures and being an obedient Saviour in-waiting.
Then in 1929, speaking before the Order of the Star members, the 32 year-old Krishnamurti renounced his destiny and dissolved the organisation. In what must have been a legendary mic-drop moment, he said:
“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path.” (Full speech is here.)
Ernest Hemingway hadn’t written a successful novel in a decade. His previous novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), had become a classic and he was excited about the publication of his new novel Across the River and Into the Trees (1950). Upon it’s release however, it was universally savaged by critics. It was Hemingway’s first ‘failure’ as a writer and he was deeply upset by the reception. He was also pissed off. Critics were calling him washed up and finished. Hemingway was eager to prove them wrong.
He had lived an extraordinary life. One of the world’s most famous writers, his personal exploits had become as renowned as his work. Hemingway saw action in both World Wars, lived in Paris as part of the ‘lost generation’ where he mingled with the great artists and writers of his time, immersed himself with the bullfighting culture of Spain, was a field reporter during the Spanish Civil War, lived and partied in Cuba, drank with movie stars, hunted big game in Africa, loved to box and had been married four times. Perhaps the fame had affected his writing. Perhaps by shedding his loneliness, his work had deteriorated.
Hemingway knew he wasn’t washed up and was determined that his next book reclaim his throne as the King of American Writers. For the story, he went back to an idea that...
It’s the most famous summer retreat in literary history. In May 1816 four Brits were holidaying together in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The acclaimed poet Lord Byron was there with his personal physician, the 19 year-old John Polidori. They met up with another famed poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his 18 year-old mistress Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Mary’s step-sister Claire Claremont, whom was having an affair with Lord Byron, was also there). They weren’t so much holidaying but laying low from scandal in their homeland. Byron, considered one of Britain’s greatest ever poets, had fled England, never to return, amid rumours of incest and debt. Shelley had ran away with Mary and her sister, leaving his pregnant wife behind.
The weather in Lake Geneva was lousy, so the group spent most of their time cooped up inside talking politics, literature and reading old ghost stories together. Byron had the idea to have a contest to each write their own ghost story. Funnily enough, the two acclaimed professionals, Byron and Shelley, ended up writing stories that have been forgotten by history. It was the two amatuers, Mary and Polidori, who wrote tales that have left a lasting legacy in literature and pop culture. After Mary’s vivid nightmare, the first paragraph she wrote was:
“It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld my man completed and with an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected instruments...
Most freelancers take on a job that they’re not that excited about … I know I have. The brief doesn’t excite them, they can’t get creatively enthusiastic about it or sometimes the people involved are a pain to deal with. Whatever it is, they wish they never said ‘yes’ to it in the first place. The great Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky felt that way about The Nutcracker. The Russian Imperial Theatre was coming fresh off the success of Tchaikovsky’s previous ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, and so commissioned him to compose the music for a ballet based on the fairy tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
Tchaikovsky was not thrilled about the job. Not only was he busy with other work and had an upcoming tour of America to worry about, but he also didn’t like the story at all. But one does not turn down an Imperial commission backed by the Tsar, so being a “self-respecting artist” Tchaikovsky gritted his teeth and got to work: “I am working with all my might and I am growing more reconciled to the subject.”
The ballet was a struggle from start to finish. As he wrote in a letter, “Today, even more than yesterday, I feel the absolute impossibility of depicting in music the ‘Sugar-Plum Fairy.’” When he finally did finish it, Tchaikovsky wrote “This...
The ONE secret that Nikola Tesla wrested from nature on that fateful day in a Budapest park was the design for his most famous and important invention: the Alternating Current Induction Motor. Before Tesla’s breakthrough, all electricity and motors used a direct current system, like the Gramme dynamo Professor Poeschl was demonstrating at Tesla’s Polytechnic School in Graz. Direct current motors were prone to wear and tear and sparking due to the number of moving parts brushing up against each other. Much to the disgust of his Professor, Tesla thought he could do away with the inefficiencies and sparking (in particular caused by a part known as a commutator). The genius of Tesla’s AC motor was it’s simplicity. There was no need for a commutator because the rotor moved due to a rotating electric field. This meant that the motor was more efficient, reliable, quieter and cheaper. In the ‘War of the Currents’ between Thomas Edison’s DC power and the AC system, Tesla’s alternating current prevailed and today is the basis of all modern power generation and distribution. Suck it, Professor Poeschl.
Tesla’s creative process was quite different to other engineers and scientists. He didn’t write things down, sketch out ideas or refine on the page. Instead he relied solely on visualisation – creating, developing, fixing and testing all his inventions completely in his mind. In my Einstein comic, I covered...
John Coltrane was already one of the most in-demand saxophonists in Jazz when he was kicked out of Miles Davis’ band in 1957 due to his heroin addiction. By then he had played with all the greats – Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis – and was on his way to becoming one of the greats himself when his drug and alcohol problems caught up with him. Coltrane was saved by a spiritual awakening. His religiousness helped him kick his addiction and gave him a new purpose in life and music.
Once Coltrane combined his masterful playing chops (he was known to obsessively practice for up to 12 hours a day and his wife would often find him asleep with the sax still in his mouth) with his spiritual purpose he became a force of musical nature. Coltrane’s new direction culminated in his best known album, A Love Supreme, released in 1964. Coltrane sums up his new devotion to faith in the album’s liner notes: “During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace.”
In A Love...