A snowstorm rages outside, but inside Rupert’s Brew House there is a calmer storm — a brainstorm, that is. Tables are pushed together and covered in long sheets of paper off a roll. Dozens of people of all ages sip beer or coffee, chat and doodle together, on shared paper, creating one collaborative piece of art.
This is Kalamadoodle, a drink-and-draw event that occurs each month at a rotating roster of local breweries.
At one high-top table, three newcomers use pens and markers to draw cats and Christmas stockings and swirling designs. They laugh, chat and sit comfortably together, even though they just met.
“I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I like to color, so I came,” says Sharon Brown, who describes her relationship to art as “pretty casual.” Brown works as an executive assistant to the president/CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
“I write poetry, but I’m not much of an artist … ,” Brown starts to say, before graphic designer Annette Shutty, sitting to her left, interjects, “Anything expressive is art! You do make art.”
Thus ensues a good-natured and mutually empowering discussion on the label of “artist” among Brown, Shutty and Luke Albrecht, a home design furniture salesman, a discussion that is exactly what Kalamadoodle founder Mike Klok envisioned when he began holding the events two years ago.
“No matter the skill level, we want people to find something to draw or doodle,” says the 28-year-old Klok. “If you come to the event and you are really hung up on what to draw, we have coloring sheets. This is an opportunity to get your pencil to paper, because really what this is all about is socializing and bringing people together.”
Kalamadoodle started as a concept in Klok’s sketchbook in 2013, while he was living in Royal Oak as a post-graduate looking for work. He imagined an event that would keep graduates in Kalamazoo.
“The catalyst for creating these events was that growing up, and in college, I had a lot of friends leave Kalamazoo for other opportunities,” says Klok. “I consider our city, our bubble here, really special. I wanted to find a way to say, ‘There’s some really cool things that can happen here.’” The word “doodle” was chosen for the name to strip the event of intimidating fine art associations, he says.
The idea sat dormant in his notebook, though, until he returned to Kalamazoo, where he had attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Western Michigan University, studying marketing. Along with his friend Nick Clark, Klok launched the first drink-and-draw event in August 2014. Since then, they have been throwing a drink-and-draw event at a different brewery every month, including Arcadia Brewing, Bell’s Brewery and One Well Brewing.
Over the past two years the event has grown in popularity. Now the average Kalamadoodle attendance is about 60 people, according to Klok. However, in October, Kalamadoodle broke its attendance record, with 200 doodlers at Bell’s Brewery, according to Blake Eason, one of four volunteer “doodle specialists” who give their time and skills, working alongside Klok to put on Kalamadoodle events.
Elena Campos, another doodle specialist who works as a cook at Olde Peninsula Brewpub, began volunteering with Kalamadoodle in 2015 as a way to stay connected to her background in art therapy, which she studied at WMU.
“With my art therapy background, this was one way I could sit down and help people,” she says. “I love sitting with people and saying, ‘Draw with me.’ Here I see art benefiting people the way it benefited me. I think it’s so attainable for every person to get more creative expression into their life, whether they think they are an artist or not.”
It’s not just participants who benefit from these monthly meetings of artistically inclined minds. Kalamadoodle provided the impetus for Klok to leave a full-time position creating publications at Kalamazoo College to start his own business, Stuffed Brain Studio, a marketing and advertising firm located in the Park Trades Center.
“Kalamadoodle gave me so much confidence since moving back to Kalamazoo,” he says. ‘Being able to put an idea out into the world, see people grab onto it, see all these people through Kalamadoodle — it all gave me the strength to execute another new idea to step out on my own.”
In an effort to harvest the events’ collective creativity for good, the organization’s doodle specialists have begun to partner with other organizations. In 2015, Kalamadoodle partnered with the City of Kalamazoo at Boatyard Brewing for an event called “Imagine,” where participants used craft paper, LEGOs and art supplies to show what they wanted Kalamazoo to look like in 2025.
Additionally, Kalamadoodle has collaborated with the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts two years in a row during the annual Beer Week, in January. At the collaborative event, participants draw together on one sheet of paper and then the images from the collective drawing are cut out and presented in an exhibit.
“At the event, we were able to say, ‘Not everyone is an acclaimed artist, but creativity in its own right is something to celebrate.’ So we cut out the pieces to give people the opportunity to say they have shown their art in a gallery,” says Klok.
Mary Brownell, a lettering artist for Food Dance restaurant and the newest doodle specialist to join the group, attended her first Kalamadoodle event at the KIA. “All the artwork from previous months was hung up on the walls,” she says, “and there was one beautiful, long banquet table down the center of the lobby. There were just tons of people there. I instantly thought, ‘I am going to come every month.’”
Brownell hasn’t missed a Kalamadoodle event since.