One of my absolute favorite things to do every single morning is check out the Google Doodle of the day. Google Doodles are the themed illustrations you see on the search engine’s homepage every morning that correspond to a historic or relevant current event of the day. I have been enjoying and admiring them for years, so when we started this new column, the first thing I wanted to do was track down the artists behind these tiny, but powerful images. After emailing around without any luck, our friend and Pencil Factory neighbor Jon Han pointed us in the direction of Sophia Foster-Dimino, illustrator and official Google Doodler. I love (love!) that her job is to draw such exciting and relevant illustrations that are seen by millions of people every day. I was so excited to hear more about what that job is like, how she found it and what the overall process of creating Google Doodles is like on a day-to-day basis. Thank you so much to Sophia for joining us for this interview! xo, grace
Click through for the full interview after the jump!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was extremely small, I wanted to be an opera singer, because I liked screaming and I thought that was all opera singing entailed.
A little later in life, before high school, I wanted to be a sci-fi / fantasy author. But in high school I took up drawing in earnest (though I had still drawn a lot before then)… I had the plan, early on, to funnel my love for writing into the creation of comics.
Now I make comics regularly, though they’re side projects from my full-time job as a Google doodler. But yes, starting from the age of 15 or 16 (when I attended a pre-college program at MICA) I was seriously committed to a career that involved drawing in some form.
What did you study in college?
I majored in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. I nearly went into printmaking, and wound up taking so many printmaking classes I had to petition the registrar to have some of them count as illustration courses. Since graduating I haven’t printed much (just woodcuts here and there, and some silkscreening) but I think studying various kinds of printmaking fundamentally changed my approach to making images. I was once torn between a painterly style and a more linear style. Now I’ve practically given up on rendering of any kind. I like flat work.
What is the best part of your job?
My favorite part of being a Google doodler is learning about the subjects I study. Any illustration job involves a substantial amount of research, but if you’re drawing for a magazine or newspaper, there’s a skew towards current events. With doodles we’re just as likely to celebrate a medieval mathematician as we are an artist from the mid-20th century, for example.
I’ve learned about some my favorite creators by serendipitously studying them on the job. The first one that springs to mind is Argentine author Adolfo Bioy Casares, who wrote the novella “The Invention of Morel.” This is one of my favorite stories now, but I hadn’t heard of the author before being assigned his doodle. Many other doodles have been a great excuse to read, for me – Stanislaw Lem, Zora Neale Hurston… or else they’re an excuse to watch great films, as was the case with Yasujiro Ozu.
And the hardest part of your job?
It’s very fast-paced, and we need to juggle many things at once – it’s a challenge. I can’t dwell too long on any one project because there’s always something else that needs to get started. It helps that I have plenty of very sweet and brilliant coworkers who are good with constructive feedback… we’ve all stepped in for one another at some point to offer critique, be it visual or conceptual.
Another challenge, for me, has been the project management side of things (if we’re working on an interactive or animated doodle that requires working with software engineers or multiple artists). I never really worked on those skills in school, so it was a rude awakening when I joined the team. I was comfortable working alone, but hesitant to direct others. That’s changed completely in the past few years… working on a team is complicated but fun, I’ve enjoyed gaining a steadier footing there.
How would someone go about getting a job like yours?
There aren’t many jobs like this – I can’t think of any, really, off the top of my head – and I came here with a lot of luck. One of my coworkers, Jennifer Hom, was a year ahead of me at RISD and came back for a portfolio review during my senior year. My portfolio at the time was really scattered and eclectic, which lost me points with most opportunities, but having a wide range of skills and interests is really important for a doodler. So my lack of focus was a plus in that case!
Since that time when I first joined three years ago, our team has grown a lot, and now artists can specialize more. That’s coincided with me narrowing my style a bit – I’m more decisive now. I feel that I have a strong sense of how I want my work to develop, which wasn’t remotely the case when I graduated. I feel very fortunate that I got a job that allowed me to work some things out with my style.
What have you learned about life from your job?
Like I mentioned, working on doodles has introduced me to a lot of amazing artists, writers, directors, musicians, philosophers, and more… that’s enriched my life a ton. It’s also been heartening to see reactions to certain doodles – the amazement of diehard fans, and the curiosity of those who are unfamiliar with the topics we’ve picked.
Speaking more to the skill side of things, I’ve learned a lot about time management and project prioritization from this job, which sounds mundane but is of course incredibly important. I went from feeling untethered and confused (after graduation) to having more projects than I have time – which is a good problem to have, all things considered, but it makes me think very seriously about what I actually want to be doing with my life, and what direction I want my work to take.
Have you ever met someone else who does the same thing- and what do you think (or what qualities do) you all have in common?
Depends on how granular you want to get! All the Google doodlers in the world work on my team, so I see them every workday and I think we have a lot in common. We’re all curious individuals who like to try new media, new approaches… we like learning, and tackling challenges with enthusiasm.
Doodling is like other kinds of professional illustration, as far as the general approach. In talking to my peers who work in editorial illustration or children’s book illustration, for example, I find that they have similar habits. They start a project by absorbing the source material, jotting down notes and sketches, not going for anything concrete but just amassing a big collection of impressions. Then you sit back, look at what you’ve noted, and pick out the bits that are compelling and iconic. Then you slowly suss it out from there. I think that everyone appreciates taking a break and looking at a project with fresh eyes later, if they’re stuck.
What’s the holy grail in your field- what’s your Oscar?
There are plenty of awards in the field of illustration, but I think a better measure of success (for me personally) would be working with someone I really respect, or getting an assignment I’ve dreamed of.
What’s coming next for you? Are there any projects coming up you’re excited to do- or dream projects you’d like to do or draw?
Future doodles are a secret, so I can’t talk about those!
As far as side projects, for the past four years not a week goes by when I’m not working on a comic. I’ve mostly done short pieces (3-5 pages), but I have longer books planned. I’m excited for all of them – I love comics. They’re difficult and exhausting but they’re the most fulfilling creative projects, for me.
I’ve had the good luck to work on many projects that I once considered “dream projects,” and all of them came along sooner than I thought they would. I’ve had work in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Lucky Peach, and recently I did the cover for Cicada Magazine, which I read religiously when I was a kid.
For the future – I dream of doing a Criterion cover, since I love film. I’d like to do a book cover, since I love to read. I want to make a video game – I thought I was going to go into the game industry when I was in college, and I interned briefly at a game company, and games are still very dear to my heart. Hopefully at least some of these dreams will come true in the next five years!
More of Sophia’s Google Doodles!
Maria Elena Walsh
Nanakusa no Sekku
Prague National Theater
National Thai Language Day
Saudi National Day
Morocco Independence Day
Sophia’s cover for Cicada Magazine