{ Tippy the Turtle is a Feeling }
story and illustration by Bill Julin

tippy the turtleLate night channel surfers are loyal subjects of sorts to the infomercial and trade-school advertisement empire. It is a television netherworld where Ron Popeil, inventor of the pocket fisherman and the food dehydrator, reigns supreme. As king, his sovereignty oversees all that slices and dices, all that is O-Matic, all that is listed at a made-for-TV price. He sits majestically on his Craft-Matic Adjustable throne and claps his hands twice to summon the court jester. The lights of his palace turn on and off—courtesy of The Clapper—as Tippy the Turtle enters the room.
   Startled and confused at the sight of the smiling turtle-necked reptile, I roll off my couch and onto the floor. Thud. It's 3:30 in the morning and I've fallen asleep in the family room again. The Art Instruction School's commercial is flickering in the darkness. Its enticing ad that features the school's patented "Draw Me" contest must have seeped into my subconscious while I slumbered. I reach for my eyeglasses on the coffee table and move closer to the TV screen. A yellow Ticonderoga #2 pencil appears in the meticulous hands of a cautious artist, sleeves rolled to the elbows in fervor. That image, that Ticonderoga, has been etched into my memory since childhood.
   What has always intrigued me about Tippy is his ability to convey a quaint idiocy in just a few contour lines. He has this "I got canned from a three-cartoon contract with Warner Brothers back in 1943 and all I got was this crappy ribbed turtleneck" look about him, yet he still sustains a sense of humility in his eye. Tippy would become the mascot of my own journey of humble persistence, as it was finally time to see if I had what it takes to join AIS's "thousands of successful graduates". Yes, I too could join the illustrious ranks with Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.
   I received the application for my art-test in six days. It arrived in a white envelope postmarked from St. Paul, Minn. with "Great News For Aspiring Artists!" written on the front. The first page was an introduction with the school's name printed in rainbow, block-shaped font in the letterhead. It revealed a brief history of the art school and a friendly reminder to follow the instructions carefully.
   The Art Instruction Schools was founded in 1914 by the Bureau of Engraving, Inc., and was originally used to train illustrators for the printing-industry boom of the early twentieth century. The company hired most of its trainees for its own accounts, but eventually the success of the school's teaching methods quickly caught the attention of many in the printing, advertising, and newspaper industries. By the 1920's, Art Instruction Students were in constant demand. Today, it's grown to specialize not just in illustration, but also cartooning, color, and perspective drawing. It has acquired most of its 100 million students from its distance education program, also known as home-study correspondence.
   Accompanying this letter was the two-sided, one-page exam, neatly folded in brochure style on glossy paper. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon and I had ample time to dedicate to the test. I dug up a #2 pencil from my kitchen junk drawer, but I couldn't find a sharpener anywhere in the house, so I walked two blocks down the street to the local library where electric pencil sharpeners are abundant. The tip of my pencil had to be razor-sharp to perform any cross-hatching or shading necessary for the test. I found a secluded table near the children's book section, read the art-test rules, and began the test.
   The beginning of the test was a brief survey on my interest in art. They asked me how long I had been drawing. Since I was five. Did I enjoy art enough to want to improve? Sure. Had I studied art before? Grade school, High School, and some instructional summer classes as a teen—the truth being that I wanted to be an artist of some kind ever since I can remember, I just never felt it was something I should get a degree in.
   I soon got to the last question, which actually took me the most time to contemplate and answer: "Tell us why you would like to improve your art and drawing." I thought about it for a while. A librarian was reading some story to a group of babbling toddlers about a boy building a tree house. I glanced over to the computers and saw a suspicious middle-aged man with shifty eyes most likely doing his best to disguise that he was looking at porn, then I scrawled: I would like to draw comics and album covers.
   The next page began the actual drawing portion of the test. I had the choice of drawing a cartoon of a Dalmatian, drawn in a Tippyan manner, or a more realistic sketch of a smiling woman's profile. I chose the woman because I wanted to show the evaluators some of my realistic drawing abilities. The drawing took me about the length of one more children's story to complete. Although I gave the woman less of an upper-lip, and turned her blow-dried feathered 'do into a wet-looking mullet, I was satisfied with my effort.
   The next part of the art-test was to finish an unfinished sketch of a suburban ranch house. I've always hated drawing scenery because I never have the patience to draw trees and blades of grass. At this point of the exam I was using my eraser more than I was using my pencil tip, and I despise eraser marks—everything about them: their smell, their irritating little squiggly pink excrement that smears all over the page. As I was drawing individual leaves on an elm tree, and quietly cursing to myself, I realized that I was never going to seriously pursue an art career. I just don't have the patience for the tedium of drawing complicated things, and I always have difficulty figuring out when the piece is finished. Knowing when to end a work of art is an innate gift that all real artists have. The only way I know how to end a drawing is when I'm staring at a page of eraser marks.
   I got very frustrated with this part of the exam. My solution was to draw a cartoon of an ambulance pulling up the driveway with its lights flashing. I then drew a speech balloon pointing to the garage that said, "Don't make me use this knife on you again, you bastard!" I did some modest shading on the roof and added some bricks to the house to make my effort seem a bit more official.
   Then, finally, came the last section of the exam, titled Free Choice. Other than Tippy I had the choice of drawing Bambi, Abe Lincoln, a pirate that eerily resembled the 1970's Pittsburgh Pirates' mascot, or one of three different drawings of women from the flapper-era—all looking sexy enough to be Dick Tracy's gal.
   Naturally, I chose Tippy. As I drew him, and learned of the strokes that give him life in two dimensions, I realized I should just let the cartoon flow out of my fingers. I wanted to capture the beauty of his goofiness in one take—without eraser marks. Tippy the Turtle had to be drawn like a Chinese brush painting with expressive, carefree, and spontaneous lines. I had to imagine myself as a ghetto Zen Buddhist, like one of those guys in the Wu-Tang Clan. I took deep breaths and achieved a moment of mindfulness as I concentrated on Tippy's image: Tippy was a feeling, and I should just lighten up and understand that I'll never be able to draw him exactly.
   Storytime was long gone, and now a knitters club was meeting near the encyclopedias. As I finished Tippy, I believe that he transformed into something else, an Emperor Penguin preparing to dive off an icy glacier. Just take a long look into his eye, you'll see what I mean. I had found the true essence of Tippy.
   I signed and dated the test, then placed it in the empty addressed envelope provided by the school. It's been two weeks now and I still haven't heard back from them. If the Art Instruction School rejected my application, I'm okay with it. Charles Schultz had shaky hands and was a shitty artist anyway.

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