For Sophie Araque-Liu, the path from art novice to this year’s national Doodle for Google champion began with a creative attempt to escape the doldrums of school. “When I was about 7 years old, I took Mandarin lessons on Sundays and would kind of space out and draw the whole time,” recalls Araque-Liu, now 17. “I became good at art, but I don’t know a word of Chinese anymore.”
The Palm City resident credits her father, a mathematician, for passing down his love of doodling. “I learned a lot from my dad,” says the Martin County High School senior. “We used to draw together all the time. He’d draw people and animals, and I would try to copy them.”
In seventh grade, she competed in her first Doodle for Google contest. The annual themed art competition geared toward K-12 students awards one grand prize winner a $30,000 college scholarship, a $50,000 technology package for their school, and the opportunity to have their doodle emblazoned on the search engine’s landing page for an entire day.
After entering her doodles three years in a row, she had decided to give up on the competition. But then she heard what the theme was for 2022: “I Care for Myself By…” At the time, Araque-Liu was struggling with performance anxiety heightened by the pandemic, and the theme really spoke to her. “What helped me the most during that time was accepting support from my family and friends, so I wanted to focus my artwork on that,” she says. “I also thought it was a message other people needed to hear.”
In her digital illustration, Not Alone, Araque-Liu and her mother are portrayed in a loving embrace incorporated into the Google logo. “It felt right because it’s such an intimate form of love,” she says. “It’s comforting just knowing someone is there to support you.”
Not Alone impressed the public, whose votes made Araque-Liu Florida’s state winner in July, landing her a spot as a national finalist. A month later, she beat out all the
other state finalists when Google’s panel of celebrity judges—including pop star and actress Selena Gomez—unanimously selected her artwork as the grand prize winner.
Araque-Liu has recently begun applying to colleges and plans on getting a degree in engineering. “Maybe at the University of Florida, which has a very good program,” she says. “I also love art, and I’m considering incorporating architecture so I can keep both things in my life.”
Here, she shares takeaways from her whirlwind experience this summer.
What was your mindset going into Doodle for Google this year?
I was thinking about what I had gone through with my mental health. I used to be the type of person who would bottle everything up and try pushing through it alone. But I’ve come to realize that it’s okay not to shoulder the burden all on your own. That was the message I tried to communicate in Not Alone. I also wanted to thank my parents and friends for all their support, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to do that.
Were your parents aware of your struggles with anxiety?
Whenever I wasn’t feeling well, I would shut myself in my room. We’re all online these days, so it’s easy to withdraw into yourself. But eventually, I came out and discussed what I was feeling, and my parents were very supportive. It started with one conversation that had to be unpacked over a longer course of time.
What advice would you give to others dealing with anxiety?
I would encourage people to understand that those around them care and love them. They also want to help. Anxiety isn’t something you should be embarrassed to talk about.
How did you find out you won the contest?
Google had requested a Zoom interview with me this summer, saying it was for their social media channels. I figured they were doing interviews with all the finalists. During our conversation, the interviewer said she needed to speak with a coworker and turned the camera off for a minute. When it came back on, Selena Gomez was seated in the chair! She congratulated me and told me I was the national winner of Doodle for Google. I was so shocked and amazed!
What else did you and Selena chat about?
I think she said she loved my artwork and the message behind it, about seeking help when you need it. I was kind of blubbering the whole time, which is too bad because I remember thinking that if I got the chance to meet Selena, there were so many things I wanted to say to her. We talked for maybe 10 minutes.
What was it like seeing your artwork posted on the Google home page in August?
Incredible! I’ll be honest, I kept Googling random things just to see it up there. It made me smile. It was insanely cool knowing so many people around the world would
see it and the message behind it.