Haven’t you heard? This artist’s ‘pirD’ is the word?

Whitney Malson sits at her side porch studio.

Have you heard about the pirD? Meet the puffin-like character that’s made its home at a local coffee shop and the artist behind it, Whitney Malson, who has turned her grief into a passion.

By Mark Manicone
April 24, 2017

Meet Whitney Malson and the “pirD” – the artist and her character taking over the walls of the Drip coffee shop in Five Points.

Malson, who is self-taught, says she found solace in painting from the grief of her sister’s death last November. The 43-year-old artist’s signature work has been the pirD – Drip spelled backward ­– which grew from the puffin-like bird she’d been sketching on the back of Drip’s frequent-customer cards.

The pirD “was the first thing I really ever enjoyed painting” and was more of an evolution than a “eureka moment,” Malson says.

Whitney Malson's 'pirDs on Abbey Road' painting.
Whitney Malson’s “the pirDs on Abbey Road,” is one of her most sought after renditions. Many people have asked her to paint copies.

What started as an avenue to channel her grief has now evolved into a passion that is popular with customers at Drip where Malson has worked since 2015 and where owner Shaun McCrossin lets her hang her work.

Customer Becky Hodges snagged a pirD painting. Hodges, also one of Malson’s longtime friends, says the pirD goes a little farther than “cute.”

“It reminds me of the good life T-shirts,” Hodges says. “They’re like the plain stick figures everyone could relate to.”

Malson, who sells her paintings for $40 to $50, says she has painted 20 pirDs so far and has only two left.

“I am constantly teaching myself,” she says, refining her techniques and experimenting with paints and canvases. She likes painting her pirDs on wood panels instead of traditional canvas.

Malson says she tries to keep the pirD consistent, but she changes the scenery to keep from painting exact copies because “each one is unique, and they have their own personality that way.”


  • Try your hand at art. Learn about classes at the Columbia Museum of Art.
  • If we’ve piqued your interest in art, explore the collections at the Columbia Museum of Art.
  • Learn how to make a living as an artist from ArtistsU, a grassroots, artist-run, professional development organization.(PDF).
  • Find out when art related events, or other festivals, are happening in Columbia at the Free-Times.
  • Visit Drip coffee shop in Columbia.

She says people often ask for a copy of “the pirDs on Abbey Road,” a rendition of the famous Beatles album cover.

“I tried to represent the little details, like the first pirD that represents John Lennon has his eyes closed,” Malson says.

Malson says she puts in 15 hours a week painting, plus her full-time job at Drip, but she doesn’t consider herself a “working artist.” And while she’s seeing initial success, Malson says the money isn’t the most important thing.

“I find a lot of joy, not necessarily from selling them, but seeing them go out into the world,” she says.

Click on the photo below to see a slideshow and listen to Malson talk more about the pirD.

Whitney Malson outlines her pirDs on a panel.
Whitney Malson’s pirD is much more than a simple folk art piece. It’s something that people can relate to, and something that people enjoy.

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