EDITOR’S NOTE: Because Google says it values the importance of encouraging young artists, the company on Tuesday will launch its latest national Doodle4Google contest for students 18 and younger. According to Google, “Kids can send in submissions from Jan. 15 to March 22. We’ll select the best 50 doodles — one from each U.S. state — with the help of our celebrity judges, and announce the state winners on May 2.”

The public vote (at www.google.com/doodle4google) will help Google pick the national finalists and winner, who will be announced at a May 22 ceremony in New York — with the winner’s Doodle appearing on the Google.com home-page the following day.

Upon the launch of the contest, Comic Riffs spoke with Team Google Doodle artist Mike Dutton about how educators were crucial to his career.

The artwork “Rainforest Habitat” from 2010 Doodle4Google winner Makenzie Melton, a then third-grader from El Dorado Springs, Mo. (Courtesy of Google )

MIKE DUTTON remembers vividly the first time he got real encouragement from an art teacher. He was a third-grader in his native Korea, he had made a tiger sculpture — and more than anything at that time, he just wanted his creation returned to him.

Mike Dutton — who has created such popular Google Doodles as tributes to Mary Blair, Charles Dickens and John Lennon — credits schoolteachers in South Korea and California for supporting him on his path to becoming a professional artist. (courtesy of Google)

“It was Mr. Briggs,” Dutton, now 35, told Comic Riffs last week, recalling the event as if it were yesterday. “I made this tiger, and he liked it so much that he lent it to some contest, and it ended up at an exhibition hall in [South Korea]. I got this letter from the U.S. ambassador to South Korea about how much he liked the piece. He said I should be proud of this great opportunity to have my work displayed.

“I was upset at the time. I just wanted to know when I was going to get my sculpture back!”

Dutton is now a California-based artist for Google, and today he understands what the experience really meant.

“I realized there was actually an audience for art. I think that’s something I’ve carried with me through my artistic career — that feeling that art is a form of communication. There is this dialogue between you and the people who see your work. Getting that response was exhilarating.”



Today, Dutton gets to have that artistic dialogue with hundreds of millions of people around the globe. He creates doodles, those illustrations and animations on Google’s search page that celebrate cultural and historic events. He says he has rendered about 170 of them. Some of his most popular doodles have included tributes to Disney artist Mary Blair, author Charles Dickens and Beatles musician John Lennon (an animation set to his song “Imagine”).

Mike Dutton’s Google Doodle for Charles Dickens. (courtesy of GOOGLE/.)


“Doodles really touch people in a profound way, and make them laugh, and create a human connection between users,” says Dutton, who studied illustration at the Art Academy in San Francisco.

Dutton, who is married to a schoolteacher, says this contest can inspire young artists — just as his Northern California high-school instructor (“Mrs. Keane”) did. He understands how important that encouragement can be.

He says both his mother (who is from Korea) and his father (who is from Georgia) were very supportive of him. “As far back as I can remember, I always enjoyed drawing. Because we moved around a lot, my brothers [David and Henry] and I would draw together as a way to pass the time.”

A self-described “Army brat,” he attended early grade school with other military kids — and also took outside classes with Korean students — and his interest in drawing found fertile ground.

“In the second grade, I drew a bunch of comic strips” — but that year’s teacher ”hated my comics,” he says.

“The next year, my third-grade teacher was a lot more supportive of my creative journey,” says Dutton, saying that the teacher may have taken his sculpted tiger, but Mr. Briggs also gave him back inspiration for a professional future in art.

Dutton went on to study traditional illustration at the Bay Area’s Academy of Art. “It was very academic training — a lot of life drawing and anatomy — so when I discovered Mary Blair, I learned to break the rules a little bit.” (Blair, who is especially noted for her work on Disney films and theme-park design in the 1950s and ‘60s, delighted in rounded and exaggerated shapes and brightly colored palettes.)

“I took very regimented color-theory classes,” Dutton says. “If I can even think remotely the way she did and how she approached color, I’d be happy.”

Dutton said his biggest earliest influences included N.C. Wyeth and other artists from the Brandywine School (“I would read these inspiring quotes like: ‘Don’t draw the sleeve, become the arm.’ “). He also studied to be a 3-D animator, and for a time wanted to be a comic-book artist like Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane.

Dutton created his first Doodles in 2010 — one for the World Cup. He says doing the intense studying for a Doodle like the Mary Blair tribute reminds him to push for originality and to ”try to communicate ideas in a slightly different language.”

“A lot of the other Doodlers are in their mid-20s, and I feel like they’re already finding their stride,” Dutton tells Comic Riffs. “I’m a little behind.”

Yet, Dutton notes: “I think I am finally beginning to find my own voice and language on how to draw something.”