How to be a doodler: Daydream with a pencil

Gemma Tipton offers a beginner’s guide to taking up a new cultural pursuit

The artist Paul Klee said drawing is just “taking a line for a walk”, but as Matthew Cruickshank, an art lead for Google, knows, that line can take you to a dream job.

Doodling is a job?

Yup. Cruickshank and his team produce those graphics that pop up on the search-engine home page from time to time. The first one came in 1998, as a sort of out-of-office notification when the founders were off at a festival. Deciding it was all the craic, they segued into adding aliens, and it took off from there.

How do I get involved?

If you’re (ahem) less than a certain age, there are periodic competitions. This year children were invited to send doodles of what they thought Ireland would look like in 20 years. Cruickshank says he was blown away by the results, “aliens, wind turbines, connections with climate change, and one brilliant little artist had put together a piece to symbolise unity, love and diversity”.

That does sound lovely, but I want a career

Fair enough. “I didn’t realise an actual doodle job could exist,” says Cruickshank, who had set up a blog,, in 2007 to share his work: doodles, sketches and painting. One day “I had an email from the Doodle team to ask if I’d come out to San Francisco.” Now there is a team of artists and engineers; with international variations you’re looking at close to 400 doodles a year.


Any limitations on my marvellous imagination?

“I try to integrate something into the letters, add a bit of mischief, and keep the four colours involved.” That said, there are black-and-white doodles on significant anniversaries and events. Doodles range from static to complex and to interactive games. “Always have your sketchbook with you,” advises Cruickshank. You can see more about the process and background at People also submit designs.

Now we’re talking

“We receive a lot. We try to work a year in advance as well.” You don’t get paid for a first submission but there is a guest-artist programme, plus a roster of regular designers who do get paid. “We’re quite easy to find online,” says Cruickshank, in an understatement, considering who he works for – although that doesn’t mean there’s an obvious application form. The idea is to build up a relationship.

I’d prefer a more sure-fire thing

Wouldn’t we all? But don’t despair. Looked at another way, doodling branches out into all sorts of areas of design. “Drawing is a gateway to so many creative visual jobs. It’s changing so much, but I still feel like drawing is the quickest, simplest, cheapest and most direct way to get your message across.” Find doodles, ads, posters and design of all kinds, and see how they have evolved, with The Graphic Design Sourcebook, recently published by Unicorn.

Hang on, I thought we were talking about doodling

It’s a transferable skill. Cruickshank trained in graphic design, illustration and animation (of the hand-drawn variety). That led to jobs with Disney and Warner Bros in London, before he headed west to Google in San Francisco. Or take the Irish woman Annie Atkins as your example – she’s a graphic designer who does a little branding work but mainly designs for film.

Set design?

Nope, Atkins designs the bits and pieces – cards, letters, posters, passports – that make a film realistic. (See more at She was part of the Oscar-winning team for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. So next time you think you’re wasting time doodling when you’re meant to be taking notes, think again. You could be on your way to a stellar career.

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton contributes to The Irish Times on art, architecture and other aspects of culture