READERS OF THE MONTH: July edition
Here’s another edition of Reader of the Month, where I spotlight some of you, my lovely readers
Carolina is from São Carlos in south-eastern Brazil.
I’ve always been interested in both science and art. I’d spend my days reading books or watching documentaries on science and wildlife, as much as I would sit and draw with pencils and pens. When time came, I chose to study Biology at college and pursue a Master’s degree in Plant Biology, although the passion for art remained.
Then halfway through the Master’s, I failed my qualification exams, and that, along with some personal problems that I was facing at that time, led me to question everything in my life. I was lost and didn’t know what to do. With my scholarship having finished, I applied for some jobs. A few months later I got into a secure, 9-to-5, well-paying job in my field. Financially, it was a relief, and I certainly learned a lot from working there. But it was out of town and my partner couldn’t move with me, which meant constant travelling. Also, it wasn’t really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
On top of that, I had this nagging idea that I should go back to drawing, but I didn’t feel comfortable in simply throwing away my background in Biology. So I started thinking about joining science and art, and working with scientific illustration. My drawing skills had been useful for making the schemes of cells, tissues, animals and plants that are so important in Biology. Also, I speak English in addition to Portuguese, so I thought about using that skill to work with translations.
Then, in March 2012, I found Zen Pencils, and have been reading the comics ever since. I am inspired not only by the comics, but by seeing Zen Pencils’ progress itself (the comments, the prints, the blog posts sharing the “backstage” of Zen Pencils). I even saved the post Making comics in the Zen Den to use as a basis when I set up my own “studio” – a desk with computer, scanner and a portable A3 drawing table, and it turned out to be simple and effective.
Finally, at the end of the last year and beginning of this year, I finished my dissertation and obtained my Master’s degree, left my job, returned home and started my own website, Art for Scientists, where I feature my scientific illustration and translation services, as well as a blog on science and art. It was frightening and some days it still is, but is so worth it. As the Advice for Beginners comic shows, “you have to fight your way through”!
ANDREW is from a small town, Chesterton, in Indiana, USA.
I found Zen Pencils around summer of last year. It was a difficult period in my life because I was adjusting to a new job and a new place. Even though I was 24, it was still scary. More than that, it wasn’t the path I wanted to be on.
Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to be a scientist. My degree in engineering was supposed to help me with that, but unfortunately something went wrong and I ended up in a maintenance office job, doing mostly paperwork and stamping documents instead of making discoveries or designing solutions to interesting problems. The money was good and I wondered if maybe this was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to throw away. I was torn between making a leap of faith or staying with my job and didn’t know which path was better.
Then I read The Road Not Taken comic. That adaptation summarised the poem better than any other form I’ve seen. I realised that there was no pressure because I was a hard worker and could do anything I set my mind to. On the one hand, I would increase my financial stability and probably be able to start a “traditional” life sooner and maybe get some interesting experiences along the way. On the other hand, there was a version of myself which could be working on complex solutions to some groundbreaking research, experiences which would be hard to come by any other way. Neither of these paths are “better” than the other. I just had to break my “analysis paralysis”, choose the one that I thought would bring me more happiness based on what I knew at the time, and run with it. I applied to graduate school and continued working my job.
Last week I received an offer for full tuition coverage and stipend. I will be a graduate student and PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, and working on ways to improve prosthetics and rehabilitation for people with injuries, specifically hands. It will be at one of the largest research universities in the country. This means a lot to me because my father lost part of his hand in an industrial accident and I see the difficulty that it brings some people. It was a very long shot, but somehow I made it. When I got the email, I didn’t move. I didn’t jump or celebrate or anything (mostly because I was at work). Instead, I just visited Zen Pencils and found If and read it over and over again. It was like the poem finally clicked into place and I understood that the ability to endure anything and keep resolve means that nothing was out of reach if we are determined enough to pursue it.
EARL is based in Austin, Texas.
Being part of a Navy family, I’ve been travelling since I was little and have always had a wanderlusting, fey sort of spirit and an inquiring mind. So when my family demanded that I make time to go back to church, after much nail-biting, I explained that despite giving it all of my life up until this point, Christianity didn’t have the answers I needed (especially concerning accepting my homosexuality), and so I wasn’t going to church anymore.
Such honesty and critical thinking regarding the bare facts of life was met with: “Move Out”. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, although it remains a bitter pill some days. After I moved out, I went from New York to Texas and then to New Zealand to re-explore the question of spirituality in my life at Vimutti Monastery. Since then, I’ve had further journeys between America, New Zealand and China that have only stoked the fires of my passion for learning and life. Currently I’m a quasi-Buddhist with a smattering of Hindu ideas on God and my good ol’ Christian morality somewhat still intact.
Alan Watts is my guru and I was introduced to Zen Pencils through the Watts’ What if Money was no Object comic. It was the first Zen Pencils comic I read and it’s still my favourite as it is the most applicable to my passion in photography. I first took up photography in my college days on a whim more or less. I took the camera to parks, to parties, on vacation, and discovered I had a love and talent for it.
Ever since I saw that first Alan Watts comic, Zen Pencils has inspired me because Gavin uses his art and understanding of the underlying philosophies to make sense of passages and quotes about the ‘Good Life’. So I try to do with my own art, be it a landscape shot, a cultural scene, and sometimes photographic ideas on impermanence and suffering. Photographing a scene of trees rotting and new shoots coming up from the mulch illustrates impermanence (or ‘Anicca’) as much as a Zen koan can. When I look at the pictures I’ve taken on beaches on the Coromandel, kids hunting frogs in Buffalo, dinner with friends in Nanjing and my mother’s last days in Delaware, I see a journey chronicled, a story told. And although I dream of making a profitable side hobby out of selling my perspective on beauty, form and experiences for people’s enjoyment (you can visit my website here), it’s fulfilling enough to recreate and frame a precious slice of the Present Moment.
Thanks to Carolina, Andrew and Earl for sharing their story. If you have an interesting story and would like to be featured as a Reader of the Month, then send me an email. I try my best to answer all your emails but please understand that I can’t get to all of them. – Gav