Since the first time I stumbled upon Birdorable, I was hooked. The site is filled with absolutely adorable renderings of birds, and I have spent hours and hours looking through the hundreds of birds at Birdorable.
I knew I had to learn more about the people behind this brilliant site, so I reached out to the creators of Birdorable, Amy & Arthur—a very charming married couple. They were kind enough to agree to an interview in which I asked them about their favorite birds, what inspired the site and more. Here’s what they had to say.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves, such as where you’re from, what you do for a living, etc.
Amy: I grew up in the Chicagoland area. When I met Arthur, he was living in the Netherlands. I moved overseas to live with him and we got married. We lived in Rotterdam and then Leiden for a total of over nine years. We moved back to the states in 2008. First we lived close to my family, in northern Illinois. Just last year we moved to the Orlando, Florida area.
Arthur: We are both self-employed. I am a freelance web designer and make websites for ourselves and small companies, as well as designs for our merchandise websites such as Birdorable.
Amy: I like to say I’m an internet entrepreneur, because I work on so many different things. I create designs for t-shirts and novelties for several online shops, though Arthur does all of the illustrations for Birdorable.
I also work on marketing and handle customer relations for several websites we own. For Birdorable I write most of the text you see on the website and I create the products for sale via our production partners.
For those who aren’t familiar with Birdorable, could you explain what it is?
Arthur: Birdorable is a website with cute bird illustrations on t-shirts and novelty gift items for birders and bird lovers. The name is a combination of “bird” and “adorable.” I design different bird species in a cute cartoon style using each bird’s authentic coloring and features as much as possible. We currently have over 450 different species, from parrots to vultures.
Amy: Our cute bird designs are available through our print-on-demand partners Zazzle and CafePress, on a wide range of products from apparel to tote bags and trendy items like iPad sleeves and smartphone cases. We offer gifts that just feature the birds by themselves, plus designs with funny captions, holiday themes, or groups of birds together for different audiences.
What inspired you to start Birdorable?
Amy: We started to become interested in birding when we lived in Leiden. Around the same time we had begun an online business where we came up with designs to sell on t-shirts and novelties. Since we liked birds, creating original cute bird illustrations seemed like a good idea.
Arthur: I thought it would be fun to make cute illustrations of birds with features recognizable to birders like us. I started with some common U.S. birds like Northern Cardinal and Blue Jay and Amy opened a CafePress store and added the designs to t-shirts. When we had a dozen or so birds I designed a dedicated website at http://www.birdorable.com and I have been drawing new Birdorable birds ever since.
This was in 2006. The style of the illustrations has changed a bit over the years—the birds now have more details—and every now and then I redraw a bird. Amy jokes that they are getting more realistic and in a few decades they will look more like Audubon paintings than cartoons. Haha!
When did you two first become interested in birds?
Amy: My parents were interested in the natural world, and they passed that interest on to me. When we were living in the Netherlands, we had the opportunity to travel to other countries. On our travels, to places like India and Egypt, we would try to take in as many natural sights as possible, while still visiting the cultural points of interest that were, at the time, more of the focus of our travels.
Arthur: From our home in Leiden, we started taking day trips to popular birding locations. Bird hides are very common at wetlands and nature parks in Europe, so we would pick out a new bird hide to visit and explore the area.
Amy: It was when we moved to the Chicago area that the birding bug really got me, though. I took a raptor internship at a local rehabilitation center, and I got involved in a local birding club. We started birding with other people and that was what really got me more interested in birding, and listing!
Arthur: An interest in birds was the spark for Birdorable, but it’s interesting how much I have learned about birds from working on the site. We receive requests from biology students doing field work, and scientists working on avian behavior studies, and we learn about all of these interesting things people are studying about birds. I’ve also drawn birds before having seen them in the wild myself, and when we finally do get to see that bird when we’re out birding, it’s so much easier to recognize because I’d studied its look when I made it in the Birdorable style.
Have you encountered any birds that you had a hard time “cutifying” or were simply too homely to?
Arthur: We get many requests from people (too many to do them all) and some of them are quite challenging. If a bird has a lot of details, like some birds-of-paradise, or it has a very cryptic plumage, like a Brown Creeper, it is a lot more work to draw than a bird that has just a few solid colors.
Some of the vultures aren’t what most people would call ‘cute,’ but that is a matter of opinion. I think they are all beautiful. I drew all vulture species earlier this year for International Vulture Awareness Day, and we offered coloring pages and free downloadable puzzles and games that were used at zoos around the world, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom here in Florida.
How do you decide which species to “cutify?”
Amy: Almost all of the birds we add now have been requested by people who have visited our website, or are fans of Birdorable on Facebook. Our “to do” list has grown quite large, and unfortunately Arthur hasn’t had enough time to draw them all.
Arthur: Yes, I love to make Birdorable illustrations, but my web design business keeps me quite busy, so I try to squeeze in some Birdorable time every now and then and pick birds from the list that Amy has ranked at the top.
Do either of you have a current favorite?
Arthur: I like the ones I drew in the last few years better than my earlier illustrations; that’s why I am redoing some of them. I like the birds of prey a lot; the superciliary ridge above their eye gives them a ‘mean look,’ such as the Ornate Hawk-Eagle. It’s fun to make those birds cute!
Amy: My favorite bird is the Barred Owl, and I really like Arthur’s cute version. That’s probably my favorite Birdorable.
Is there a goal to get to every bird? At more than 10,000 birds, that’s probably quite a task.
Arthur: Gosh, that would be a lot of work! We started 6 years ago and currently have over 450 different bird species. At this rate it would take me another 125 years to make all species of the world, so I would really have to ramp it up!
Amy: I like that we have all of the vulture species of the world on Birdorable now. I think it would be nice if we could complete some other families or groups of birds. We’re well on our way with penguins, and I know we have a lot of requests for birds in the crane family, which isn’t too large of a group.
I know you take requests for custom designs from people. Have you had any interesting or odd requests?
Amy: We’ve had some requests for extinct birds, like the Labrador Duck and Carolina Parakeet, and we have added those to the site. There have also been requests for mythical birds, like the Phoenix or the Gryphon, and those we are not planning to do.
We receive quite a bit of fan mail and requests from zoos and non-profits like nature centers and school groups. We’re happy to provide illustrations for these kinds of organizations, as long as there is no commercial enterprise involved. For example, we were very excited to provide Birdorable art for an educational display at the Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre in Ireland.
Could you tease us with any additions to Birdorable we could expect in the near future?
Amy: The 100th anniversary of the extinction of an iconic American bird will occur in 2014, and I think it would be appropriate for us to commemorate that. That’s an easy clue, I think! Haha!
For those looking to buy some great gifts for the bird lover in their family, where can they purchase Birdorable products (which make really great gifts I might add)?
Amy: You can find all of the Birdorable species we have here: http://www.birdorable.com/meet/. Each species page has a bit of information on the bird, as well as links to all of the different designs we offer where that bird is featured. You can shop by design on our gifts page here: http://www.birdorable.com/gifts/. Customers can also shop by price on our website. Our production partners CafePress and Zazzle take care of our customer service and order fulfillment for us.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t touched on yet?
Arthur: In addition to selling merchandise with our bird illustrations on them, we really like to spread awareness about conservation issues and knowledge about our avian friends. We offer free printable coloring pages. Each bird coloring page features some interesting or important facts about the bird. Hopefully that makes the coloring fun and just a bit educational, too. We also have a few charity campaigns where a portion of our profit from certain design sales is donated.
Amy: If your readers would like to contact us, they can do so via our website here: http://www.birdorable.com/contact/. Thank you so much for this interview; it was a lot of fun!