Kennebunk art student is finalist in Google contest

Nines Flanders had no idea that a school assignment in a Google-connected art class would lead to becoming a finalist in a national competition.

“I was kind of like, ‘It was unlikely,'” said Flanders, 17, who identifies as non-binary.

But the Kennebunk High School senior is now representing Maine as one of 54 national finalists in a contest to create a new Google Doodle. If Flanders wins, they will receive a $30,000 university scholarship and the school will receive a $50,000 technology package.

The Doodle for Google competition began in 2008, centering on the “Doodle”, or an image that often replaces the Google logo when visitors use the popular search engine. Google is putting the winner’s doodle on the site as a guest artist, and this year’s theme was “I take care of myself by…”

Flanders’ project clearly involved music, with an image of a character listening to headphones, with notes that spelled out Google. Flanders said the music is clearly inspirational, with Lady Gaga and Will Wood and the Tapeworms topping their playlist.

Flanders said the inspiration came from many places, starting as early as fourth grade reading the “Warrior Cats” book series.

“I thought it was really, really cool and inspired me a lot,” they said.

Flanders experiments with different artistic mediums, sometimes using colored pencils or oil pastels, but mainly works in digital art drawn on a tablet using ProCreate software.

“I think I try to find a way to interact with my emotions,” Flanders said.

Flanders initially struggled to describe his artistic style, eventually calling it surreal, informed by classical painters such as Vincent Van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Brendan Roddy, the art teacher at Kennebunk High, described Flanders as a more symbolic artist, using realistic imagery in unusual ways to tell stories. Hearing that, Flanders smiled and said, “Yeah, use that.”

Roddy said Flanders is part of a new wave of artists, building on recent popular art movements.

“That’s what I think Nines is doing, elevating the game from what manga and animation did 10 years ago,” he said.

Roddy said he presented the Doodle for Google contest to 13 of his students, including Flanders, as a class assignment.

“I was more of a coach and a mentor,” he said.

The school found out that Flanders was a finalist at the end of April via email. Flanders was shocked.

“It was quite surprising. I didn’t really expect it,” Flanders said.

Flanders plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design after graduation.

Kayleen C. Rice