Mike Dutton remembers the first time he got real encouragement from an art teacher. He was in third grade, and he had made a tiger sculpture.
"It was Mr. Briggs," Dutton, 35, said, 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 an artist for Google, the giant search engine company based in California, and today he understands what the experience really meant.
"I realized there was actually an audience for art," he says. "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."
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 created about 170. 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).
"Doodles really touch people in a profound way, and makes them laugh, and creates a human connection between users," says Dutton, who studied illustration at Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Because Google says it values the importance of encouraging young artists, the company last week launched its latest national Doodle4Google contest for students 18 and younger.
According to Google, "Kids can send in submissions until 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 search giant adds: "A public vote (at Google.com/doodle4google) will help us pick the national finalists and winner, and we'll reveal who these are at an awards ceremony in New York on May 22. The winner's doodle will appear on Google.com on May 23."
Dutton, who is married to a schoolteacher, says this contest can encourage young artists. He understands how important that can be. He says his parents were very supportive of him. And then, of course, there was Briggs, the teacher who took his sculpted tiger — and helped give Dutton a future in art.
Today, his work is seen by millions.