Doodling for Dickens’ Birthday: A behind the scenes look

Monday, February 06, 2012 at 9:00 PM

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birthday (born February 7, 1812). To celebrate the life and work of one of the world's greatest storytellers, the Google doodle team created this fantastic celebratory doodle for our home page:

In addition, our Google Books editorial team curated a collection of free and featured Dickens classics available in the Google eBookstore in Dickens' native land (United Kingdom) and some Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia) as well as the US -- a relatively new nation that Dickens himself visited in 1842 and 1867.

As anyone who has read a Dickens novel can attest, they are full of memorable characters, realism, humor, lyricism, and social commentary. He is considered one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era, and responsible for some of the most iconic stories in English literature. Contemplating Dickens’ diversity of characters and themes, I wondered how the artist who created the Dickens doodle, Mike Dutton, handled the challenge.

Prior to working at Google, Mike was a freelance artist, and illustrated several children’s books, including Donovan's Big Day. He is no stranger to making the words on a page come alive through imagery.

Mike has worked on countless doodles, some honoring other authors like Richard Scarry, and others celebrating events like the Royal Wedding and the World Cup. His favorite doodles to work on (so far!) were Mary Blair’s 100th birthday and Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry (author of The Little Prince).

When asked about his experience trying to represent Dickens, Mike said that it posed a greater challenge than most. “Google doodles,” he said, "are intended to be fun and delightful"; however Dickens’ work is frequently serious in tone. So I decided to focus on Dickens’ characters to bridge this gap.”

And Mike’s doodle is full of characters! We see Nell and her grandfather in the The Old Curiosity Shop, many characters from Little Dorrit, Oliver and his friends from Oliver Twist and Estella and Pip from Great Expectations. Even a certain French aristocrat graces the doodle, sitting inside the uppercase “G” -- a reference to his near death by guillotine. And no tribute to Dickens would be complete without Ebenezer Scrooge and a vivid depiction of London in the background.

Mike said that while he normally works on his tablet, he had to go back to a physical drawing board for the Dickens doodle, creating each character separately so that he could place them within different parts of the Google logo. Like an engineer, he likes to iterate on what he designs until he gets it right.

Mike’s puzzle – layering characters from Great Expectations and Oliver Twist

When I visited his office, I also saw that like other artists, Mike immersed himself in his subject. He had Dickens’ novels stacked by his desk, as well as images from adaptations of the author’s novels pinned to his wall.

 “Just happy to be here.”

Interestingly, while a doodler’s work neither hangs in a museum nor receives the reverence of a Da Vinci or a Picasso, the illustrations are perhaps more widely and instantly viewed than any other artists’ in history. When asked about this, Mike responded:

“Sometimes I feel I got to cut in line somewhere along the artist’s journey. Being a doodler is a very fun job, but we take it seriously. Our ultimate goal is to engage and delight users, but we want to make sure we really pay proper homage to each figure along the way too.”

Mike’s doodle lets Dickens’ characters speak to the author’s impact, the way Dickens himself used them to speak his messages to the world. They are familiar, warm, and tell their sometimes harsh stories in a way that makes us want to take notice and enjoy. He uses them to successfully capture what made Dickens’ great: characters that are real to us.

Find out more about Dickens’ work and Google doodles: 



exambooster said...

it is good content

L2Wbookhand said...

This doodle will be loved by lettering artists because of the constructed letters Mike used. Calligraphers around the world would like to know more about how the logo was designed. Calligraphy is the base for fonts after all, the historical key to electronic words.

Kylos said...

Except a certain french aristocrat didn't die by guillotine. That's probably the most significant part of the book.

Inside Google Book Search said...

@Kylos: Thanks for the correction. I've changed the post to reflect that Darnay nearly escapes his planned execution."

Amy Pickwick said...

Is "Mr. Pickwick" the guy in the window to the far right? I'm trying to figure out who that is...

Anonymous said...

how can he be having a 200th birthday when i suppose he is dead or ?not human? anyway we will be having loads of birthday parties and the ages will be like phone numbers . i believe after death we call it anyverseries or what ever

Anonymous said...

I am so glad that characters from Little Dorrit made it in there. I wasn't sure anyone had ever even heard of the book. Great Expectations was also a surprise. This could be my favorite doodle yet!