Illustrator and author Kate Feiffer calls doodling “sort of the id of drawing.” As she explains, “We tend to overthink everything. Doodling is the only thing in my day that I’m not overthinking. I like doing them. I like the way the line comes out so clean and fresh and unrehearsed.”
Well, not everyone’s doodles are gallery worthy, but Feiffer’s artistic talent and distinctive style, combined with her natural ability as a storyteller, make her colorful doodles true works of art. From June 21 through July 11, the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse will spotlight the artist’s work, done in India ink, watercolors, gouache, and marker, in a show called “Dedicated to Doodle.”
The title has dual meanings. Not only has Feiffer spent a lifetime drawing, she also includes in the show a series of doodles drawn on book dedication pages. While cleaning out her late mother’s apartment, Feiffer was faced with the challenge of what to do with the many books collected over the years. “I was having a really hard time parting with them,” she says. “They were meaningful to me. Everything else I could get through, but the books were taking me years.”
The solution came as Feiffer was flipping through the books. “I hadn’t really thought about how personal and intimate the dedication page is,” she says. “I started ripping those out and drawing on them.” The resulting images are playful little scenarios surrounding the words. The illustrations don’t necessarily have any connection to the books’ content. Instead they were inspired simply by the look of the words on the page. A dedication to Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, is incorporated into a squiggly drawing of a woman with a surprised look on her face. Another more elaborate image includes a dedication to “Rosie and Fred” on a turtle’s back.
“The dedication is the most private part,” says Feiffer, “The only part that doesn’t have a plot line.” By embellishing the dedication pages, the artist has given them their own story in a way. Feiffer herself is the author of 11 children’s books, which she dedicated variously to family members and friends.
“I grew up with a love of books,” recalls Feiffer. “They were my comfort zone — not only the stories but the actual physical books themselves.There was something very comforting about having all those books around.”
Feiffer’s mother Judy was an author, editor, and film executive who was given the nickname “Doodle” by her brother.
The artist and author’s father, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, was also a big influence in her early development. “Because of my father, I spent a lot of time thinking about lines,” she recalls. “He didn’t like coloring books. I would get upset if I colored outside the lines, but he would encourage me to color outside the lines. I now appreciate that.”
Feiffer has shown her work at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury and the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton. In 2016 she was the subject of her first solo show at the Playhouse. She serves as an editor and illustrator for The Martha’s Vineyard Times and produces The Times’ annual Islanders Write event.
For the upcoming exhibit, Feiffer created some larger works featuring an array of the images that tend to populate her artistic world. Flowers, fish, birds, and people engaging in a variety of activities are interspersed with squiggles and dots for a sort of stream-of-consciousness pictorial story. These colorful images invite close inspection and multiple viewings.
“I wanted to do something with the idea of doodles on doodles,” says Feiffer, describing the multiple image pieces. “I’ve been a compulsive doodler my entire life. I’m always drawing. I’ll just sit there holding a cup of coffee with one hand while scribbling with the other. I draw lots of little people and birds, squiggles, fish, dogs — all of the things that are in my doodle tool box.”
Kate Feiffer’s “Dedicated to Doodle,” featuring doodles, drawings, and other delights will hang at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse from June 21 to July 11. A reception will be held on Saturday, June 22, from 5 to 6:30 pm.