Hello fabulous readers! As I slowly get back to work after my incredible three-week long USA book tour (photos here!), I thought I’d share with you two fantastic reader of the month stories. The first is about tapping into your creative calling early in life and then pursuing it professionally, and the second is about REDISCOVERING your creative outlet after putting is aside. First up is Rifyal:

oct15_1Hello! My name is Rifyal, I am 23 years old and I live in Bandung, Indonesia. Since I was a kid, I always loved reading. My parents introduced me and my sisters to books since an early age and we went to the local library every weekend. I would read everything back then, including, of course, comic books. I had a huge collection of comic books which is how how I fell in love with drawing. I remember one day I was doodling in my room and my mum said, “You’ll make a good architect”.

When it was time for me to go to college, I didn’t study architecture, but did interior design instead. There, not only could I further my drawing and creativity, but I also discovered I had a passion of building things. In college, I did quite a number of interior design projects and people were already asking me to design their spaces – houses, offices, cafes, anything. I fell in love with doing real-life projects instead of sitting in the classroom and listening to the lecturer.

I faced a crisis when I finally graduated. I knew I wanted to do my own thing and had this big dream of operating my own interior design company. I felt I was ready to go out on my own after doing so many projects during school, but there were so many things I didn’t know about business. I was afraid. Did I have enough experience? Could I make a living from it? Don’t I need to work for someone else first before starting my own company? I was paralysed with fear. Until one day I saw this comic in my Facebook feed with a quote from Amy Poehler.


It really was a boost. It punched me in the face and said “Just freaking do it! If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll know you tried”. And that’s how Voupe Studio, a small interior design consultancy, was born. My mother was not cooperative at first and she was worried about my financial security and wanted me to get a stable job at a big company. I told her it is not money I chase and after a long talk, she was finally okay with the idea of starting my own business.

My partner and I had saved up enough money from projects we had done in college to fund the new business for just two months. I learned a lot during those two months about how to deal with clients, how to sell, how to manage, and most importantly, how to maintain my spirit. Zen Pencils played a big part in that and I bookmarked my favourite comic with a quote from Chris Hadfield that I read every time I got down.


So here I am now, and the studio is still running today. Voupe has now become a studio where designers discuss ideas and make incredible things. You can see some of the spaces we’ve built below. I might still be far away from my goals, but I’ve come so far from where I used to be and I can’t wait to see where the business will go in the future.




Wow Rifyal, what a impressive story. It’s such a ballsy move to open your own studio straight out of college – there’s no way I could have done that when I was in my early 20s. My hat is off to you and I wish Voupe Studio the best of luck! Next up is the story of Janet, who rediscovered her love for art after giving up her creative pursuits to become a lawyer.

oct15_5Hi Gav, my name is Janet and I live in Calgary, Canada. In 2009 I put the kibosh on creativity; I sold my paints, put away my drawing pencils and went to law school where I buried myself in readings and pursued interests I thought would bring about a respectable, middle-class paycheck. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Zen Pencils over a year ago that I started to make allowances for creativity, wondering if perhaps creativity wasn’t the knave who imbibed me with certain impulses or the swindler who cheated me from contentment with routine work. Although law school quenched a thirst for ideas and information about the world, a big part of me was missing and Zen Pencils’ beautiful comics, as well as your own story, made me realise a need unfulfilled doesn’t go away.

Before swearing off creativity for all eternity, I studied fashion design and started my own business after graduating; I didn’t have the skill or the money to make a go of it and when I closed the business, I shut down every creative impulse alongside it. After discovering Zen Pencils a serendipitous chain of events led me to a spot in an oil painting class with the most generous, talented teacher, Doug Swinton. Doug’s exuberance for art and painting resurrected me and I felt firsthand the curative effects Neil Gaiman described when he called on us to ‘make good art’ as a panacea for everything life throws our way.


Apart from reviving my creative interest, Zen Pencils helped me understand how vital it is to love the whole process. For me, Kahlil Gibran’s entreaty to ‘work with love’ highlights the imperative that we love not just the creative aspects, but the technical ones too. I didn’t love the technical aspects of fashion – understanding fabrics, pattern drafting and sewing – but I do love the technical aspects of oil painting – colour mixing, brushwork and ensuring all the elements of a good picture are present. Ironically, it’s learning the technical aspects of oil painting that are the most stimulating; having Doug explain or demonstrate how to create depth and perspective, capture the float of a cloud or infuse a scene with light and shadow and then be able to replicate it is thrilling. Although I did the painting below early on in my art classes, it remains one of my favourites. Doug added the highlights on the tops of the boats, pointing out that the horizontal planes receive the most light, and he got me to use both warm and cool reds and yellows for the red and yellow boats, as contrasting temperatures can also add a sense of light and dimension.


Beyond a love for painting, the greatest reward to come out of my rediscovered creativity is sheer appreciation – the ability to see beauty in the world. I’m reminded of Richard Feynman’s debate with his friend and, although I see the world more through the eyes of an artist than a scientist, I can’t help but think Feynman’s argument supports any discipline which cultivates a deeper understanding of the intrinsic qualities of a subject. Painting what you see, rather than what you think you see, is surprisingly difficult. When Doug patiently directs my attention to subtle details and variations I fail to notice, he isn’t just improving my painting, he is offering me glimpses from his own aesthetic point of view; he is teaching me to see all the unperceived beauty.

I’m now painting about once a week either at art class or on my own and I truly feel I’m on the road to creative recovery. Thank you Gavin, Zen Pencils has become a destination that never fails to uplift and inspire!

You’re most welcome Janet! You know, a lot of people I met on the book tour told me that Zen Pencils helped them take up a creative hobby again after giving it up. That makes me feel so great, I’m not sure what exactly it is about this website that is helping people want to make good art, but hey, it’s an absolute honour! – Gav

– Get 20% off Zen Pencils posters, including some new designs. Offer ends end of today Friday November 6th.
– Come say ‘Hi’ during my Australian Book Tour in November.