Creativeprose: Tippy the Turtle and Pirates Too

Do you remember the ads on matchbooks and in comic books that invited you to draw pirates, fawns, turtles, and other pen-and-ink characters? You sent your sketch to the experts at the Art Instruction Schools, who decided whether you had the chops to be a "serious art student." I assumed this charmingly low-pressure pitch had long since faded away. Then last weekend, I almost fell over when I saw a TV commercial hawking those same characters and that same pitch. Art Instruction Schools is alive — it’s even online!

Tippy’s stylin’ in his turtleneck. (Get it?? Oh, those jokesters at the Art Instruction Schools!) And Mr. Blunderbuss there is a fine-lookin’ pirate indeed.

I suppose I shouldn’t judge what I haven’t tried for myself, but I doubt Art Instruction Schools is worthwhile, despite its catchy motto ("Creating Better Artists Since 1914"), high-profile graduates (Charles Schultz is the best-known name), and sheer longevity.

That doesn’t mean all education outside of traditional brick-and-mortar universities and colleges is suspect. There are oodles of ways to bolster your abilities. There’s the long-distance learning route, which encompasses, of course, as well as companies that specialize in training videos you download or view online, such as, and Vide2Brain.

When I have the time and the money, I prefer to leave my desk to learn. Professional associations such as the AIGA are a great place to hear about thought-provoking lectures, studio tours, and short courses.

And now I’m going to open up the topic to you. How do you like to learn? What’s the most effective seminar/book/conference/talk over coffee you’ve experienced? Share your successes with us all and leave a Comment.

Posted on: November 7, 2005

42 Comments on Creativeprose: Tippy the Turtle and Pirates Too

  1. Any of the listed methods can be THE best, depending on one’s readiness for the level of instruction being offered and one’s need to know that stuff. Too advanced is confusing, too elementary is boring. I like a seminar best, IF it’s a good fit. A magazine, computer or book article that tells you how to do something you currently want to do, but are clueless, is gold! Same with chats with peers. The best learning comes from need to complete a REAL project.

  2. Art Instruction Schools has been around for years helping artists get instruction and feedback from other artists.

    I have a soft spot for the program because Charles M. Schulz got his training through this organization before going on to create Peanuts, and was an instructor there for a time as well.

    As a cartoonist, that is the ultimate person to have on your alumni and faculty list.

  3. Get out and learn! Art Institute of Seattle Alumni of 15 years, I chose to enroll as a full-time student at my local technical college. I have worked in many places and to be quite frank, you don’t have “time” to self teach new software and techniques.

  4. Years ago I replied to one of those ads and received the admission test for the Art Instruction School. It not only included drawing Tippy or the pirate (a bambi-like deer comes to mind) but other exercises such as perspective and fashion design. Well, I passed with flying colors based on the feedback I received but when they found out I was 13, they weren’t interested in my pursuing further education with them. Guess they figured they couldn’t get any money out of a kid.

  5. I’m always looking for new ways to do things and new things to do. I’m also more of a learn by doing kind of person. I find the web to be a great resource.

    I’ve found some great photoshop tutorials on If you’re looking for that really cool special effect or wondering “how’d they do that?”, chances are that someone on good-tutorials has found a way.

    Also, if you’re just getting into Flash, I recommend There are some free tutorials to try out and several pay tutorials that are worth it…especially if you are lost like I was in the beginning.

  6. I go to seminars, conferences and do the tutorials online. I find that buying training DVD is the most cost effective and the most efficient way of learning for me. I say that because at a seminar or conference you can miss something (written or vocally). By having the DVD you will miss nothing and can view it repeatedly at no extra cost. I’ve gotten DVDs from NAPP, Software Cinema and some from Photographers I’m interested in. This way I can have a seminar anytime I want at no extra charge.

  7. Just a short rant, if it wasn’t for FAS – Famous Artist School and it’s home study course, a 12 year old wouldn’t have had the opportunity to recieve the invaluable instruction and encouragement needed to eventually become a successful illustrator/graphic designer. Now days I prefer to get out of the office, out of town, away from email, cell phones and customers. My best experience was 5-days at the Scottsdale Artist School in Scottsdale, Arizona. A great school, fantastic instructor, talented fellow students, and no interruptions. By the way, FAS is on-line also at

  8. I’ve always been excellent at drawing. I responded as have thousands to the stupid ‘Draw Me’ ads when I was 13 years old. At that time I was living in poverty, but teaching myself cartooning, artistic anatomy and virtually every other aspect of commercial illustration. At that time I drew constantly; even designing my own superhero. Even I wasn’t up to their ‘standards’ of worthiness for the ‘free’ art training, but they were willing to sign me up for their paid courses. It might have really helped me at that time.
    Unfortunately, less than a year later I had a nervous breakdown because I was being sent to a foster home. I drew rarely after that. When I was 16, still in poverty, I entered a large drawing contest (for adults), entering a No.2 pencil sketch on cheap paper of a girl from a magazine cover. It won ‘Honorable Mention’. That has always given me some solace. Now I work exclusively in the digital domain where my emotional turmoil associated with drawing is less inhibiting.

    I think it would be a good idea to have an in-depth overview of the extent educational tutorials, both print and video (multimedia) that have become popular in recent years. Obviously a multi-part series, it would cover the general aspects of the advantages of print vs. e-books vs. multimedia formats as this relates to the various subject matter being explored (intro vs. essential training vs. advanced concepts). The video tutorials, for example, are becoming very expensive. And some, like the Total Training series for Photoshop CS2, are filled with fancy fluff and witty quips that offer no tutorial value at the expense of the software. In fact, many of these new tutorials cover the same material that the older tutorials of previous versions of Photoshop cover, so that it might be better to recommend that the marginally expensive route is to buy the older multimedia tutorials for their superior clarity and the textual tutorials for their overview of the major new features.

    Keep up the good work!


  9. I too must confess that as a 15 year-old I drew “The Pirate”. To my amazement an Art Instruction Schools representative contacted my parents. That was all it took to get them to finally realize that I was serious about pursuing a career in art. They gladly sent me to a “traditional brick-and-mortar” art school.

    I do know one graduate of AIS. He drew Tippy back in the 50s and was an AIS graduate. He then went on to get a BA in Fine Arts and ran a successful sign shop for decades.

  10. I too at 18 did the drawing and even bought the course even though I couldn’t afford it as a young teenage parent in Ohio. It made me realize that I valued the face to face time you get in “real art school.” I went on to get my BFA from a “bricks and mortar” and loved every minute of it. It wasn’t so much the drawing (that you have to do on your own anyway), but the feedback and seeing other artists’ techniques, weaknesses and strengths.

    I am self taught on the computer programs that I use in my graphic design business and have had video training.

    Recently my daughter tried an online degree course and she ran into technical problems as well as felt the lack of human contact. As she said, even having other students around her looking at the work and just making a small suggestion made her work better.

  11. I’ve heard before that the first sign of a scam is when they ask for money. Now when I started the process of giving my information and taking the drawing test I thought that it was almost too good to be true,and there was no mention of money whatsoever. When I recieved feedback saying that they thought I was an excellent artist and wanted to meet to discuss and see more of my art, I was ecstatic. (One of the art directors called and told me this). But during our conversation on the phone, he said “you do know we don’t give full scholarships, right?”. He then went on to say that it would cost around 3,500 a year for supplies,etc. I actually seriously considered this because any other art school would most likely cost more and I really wanted this to be legitimate. Upon researching the school and going to the website,it seemed to be legitimate but there were certain people saying that it was a scam and also red flags experts say to look out for. In the end, I made the decision not to go through with it because the art school I do go to should be one that I know is real a hundred percent and have no doubt about it. Who knows, I could be wrong; but for those making the decision to go through with it,please consider the fact that it’s not a free ride and the clues that it is a scam like the asking for money first thing and the mention of Schultz,a famous artist to promote the school could be red flags.
    (Just my opinion)

  12. Like so many, I, too, drew Blinky (I believe that was the name of the baby deer) when I was in 8th grade, but left it in the magazine. My sister-in-law sent it in to the school and I received the standard letter that I was a promising artist, but was too young for their program. At that point I dismissed it (I was 14).

    A couple of weeks before my 16th birthday, a sales rep called to set up an appointment, but my parents told me to tell him “thanks, but no thanks”. A few hours later, after they had a chance to talk, they had me call the sales rep back. Within a couple of days of the call we had set up an appointment to learn more about the program.

    In 1973, the cost of the course was $800. My parents agreed to put down $50 for a down payment, but since I had a job, I was to be responsible for paying for the course. At the cost of $25 a month, it was expensive considering that I was making 95 cents an hour at the job I had. I made every payment and I did complete the course my senior year in high school.

    The course gave me some valuable skills even though I didn’t get a job in commercial art/graphic design (the program that they were promoting at the time) after graduating college. Every job I’ve had has had a graphic arts component to it, but hasn’t been in a design agency. I’ve used what I’ve learned.

    The school is accredited by ACE (American Council on Education) that accredits higher education programs (college level programs). It’s also accredited by DETC (Distance Education & Training Council). It is a legitimate organization. Just because an organization asks for money for the services it provides, doesn’t make it a scam — otherwise, every business has to be considered a scam.

    I can’t speak for the way sales reps represent themselves today, but in 1973, we knew the school’s rep was a sales rep which is why we initially declined setting an appointment.

    However, I do agree with woswald. There are many ways to learn and the best method is that which gets your current project completed.

  13. I am a current student at AIS. Personally, I don’t think the school is a scam at all. A scam is when a company Does NOT give you anything it says it is going to! So far AIS has taught me eveything it says it was going to. Yes the tuition fees seem expensive, but they are far less expensive than the cost of tuition fees at eg. The Art Institutes Courses.

  14. I always thought I was able to draw. While I spent some time in Austin, TX, I signed up for drawing classes at the University of Texas (1998). That was my “end” as the artist I thought that I was. I never touched a pencil again until I heard from Art Instruction Schools. I went through the same process described by other posts.

    Today, after graduating from the basic training and doing art only as a hobby, I could say I NEVER have had any regrets whatsoever for having spent time and money on Art Instruction Schools.

    Thank you for allowing me to share my personal opinion on this regard.

    Jairo Vargas

  15. I just recently agreed to go though the art courses offered through Art Instruction school, and believe me, I thoroughly research everything I could get my hands on,before agreeing to the interview. I,like many, requested for the “Draw Me” test when I was 18, but I never mailed the test in. Now at 29, I’ve always been serious about my art,even as a young girl, and I feel this intructional school is perfect for a woman like me who works a full time job and can not squeeze actual class time in at the moment. I knew it was an instructional school going in, so I KNEW money was involved across the top…but then again, higher or “additional” education cost. I don’t feel scammed,and like a few comments above have mentioned, they have supplied everything so far that they said that they would. I am happy, it is a reasonable cost (MUCH less than my B.S. degree that I persued in Psychology/Sociology,lol) and the flexabilty is working great for me. I’m very happy with the cost and happy that it truly is an accredited instructional school.


  16. I am almost finished the AIS program. I am 21 years old and literally just licked the envelope for lesson 25. I personally have loved the experience. I sometimes work 3:30-11 at my job, and when it’s a dead night, I basically get paid to do my school work. AIS has improved my drawing capabilites greatly. I was initially planning on going to an art based college after taking a year off after highschool to earn some tuition money. However, my skills just weren’t quite good enough. I know that they are now and I am applying for school for September, thanks to AIS. I finished paying off AIS so long ago, I can’t not be greatful for the school! I do not think AIS is a scam, but I do think you have to choose the path thats right for you.


  17. There is nothing that they are teaching that you can’t learn on your own; however, anyone who takes their course and does the work will get a great deal of practice, and practice is what makes you a competant artist/illustrator. If you need to pay 3K to motivate you to practice, then it is money well spent. Otherwise, just ask the sales rep to provide you with a complete course discription (all the classes you will be taking). Then go to and/or and buy all the instructional materials and DVD’s needed to learn the material offered at Art Instruction Schools. This should cost you only a few hundred dollars. If you want to motivate yourself to learn to become a better artist, then it would be cheaper to just get rid of everything you own except what is needed for you to become a better artist. Then you would have nothing to do except practice. Don’t you remember how some of your best work was done during a high-school class that really sucked (which was all of them for me)? You were so bored that all you would do is sit there and draw on a piece of paper, the book or even the desk! I have known several totally talent-less people who have gone to prison and then came out as accomplished illustrators–it was the total bordom that inspired and motivated them to draw, but you don’t need to commit a felony, just get some books/DVD’s and then get yourself really bored.

  18. I’m looking at taking a course through them and before i do a representative from the PA state board or accreditation has to come and meet with me since the school is accredited by PA.

  19. I will be 60 this May, and when I was about 9 – my sister, the favored child, was doing very badly in school (had already failed twice) but she liked to draw. So my mom allowed her to send in her drawing. Then I remember the rep coming to see my parents. We were so poor, we often shared one 14 oz can of beans thinned with water, then thickened with flour between the 6 of us. When the rep came, I being very jealous of my sister, showed the rep my attempt to draw the dog.

    I was 3 years younger than my sister and the rep said considering my age, I had even more talent. My sister was only 13 and too young, but as soon as she turned 14 the rep came again. Then yearly, my parents would go through the same guilt motivating sales pitch….and when I turned 14 they got it double duty.

    The upside was that, it kept both my sister and I interested in art. Each year we would be invited to try for their scholarship. My sister became so good at drawing brides that when she was 15 she had a pencil sketch of a bride “Disqualified – Done by Professional” in the Edmonton Exibition. She always drew people.

    I drew everything but people. Landscapes, still life, animals, animals and more animals…designed what I though would be a great pattern for fabric (paisleys, plaids, animal prints, and you name it. Every year our teachers would take the best pieces of art in every category and enter them in our town’s local fair (population 10000) and then the winning pieces would go to the Edmonton Exhibition. Every year after I was 9 I won several first prizes and a second or third prize in the Edmonton exhibition….while my sister took prizes for portraits.

    Unfortunately, adulthood hasn’t left much room for art, and although I spent 20 years single parenting, I did have businesses that involved artistic pursuits. Sadly a serious accident cost me everything that I spent a life time earning and saving….including losing my house.

    Recently, I say the ad on TV and immediately recognized it. But, I do NOT have the money to take the course and am reluctant to get involved with the repetitive visits from the rep. I would love to take the course. But, my memories of my parents frequenty crying, are etched in my memory and I am unsure that I could handle the emotions of wanting it and not being able to afford it…..and payments are NOT a good choice.

    Just my experience.

  20. So like many other and those who like to draw i was skeptical about the school i saw the commercials and wonder if it was for reals or not so i decided to write the number down and call when i get a chance. so i did and i received the practice test if you want to call it that but i never send it. i kept it cause i wasnt sure it was the ri9ght thing to do. am in the military as of now and i wanted to find stuff out about the school before i send the paper work. after two or three weeks of requesting the paper work and rep call me asking me to meet him cause he was interesting in my art work and wanted to see my potential. His name was Daniel Perez incase some of you met with him. He told me the charles thing and what not just to be clear charle shultz did not attent this school he worked as an instructor for several years so they throw in some BS to convince you.He mention the creator of Family guy went there, the creator of power puff girls and tony the tiger all BS. i looked everything up after i already have signed and what not and it was fake just to signed with them. so far so good i already completed my first two assignments and working on the third.Even thou i was asked for money i dont think they have charged my account yet. so i have no idea what they’re waiting for, anyhow if you want to learn to draw you have to practice if you’re one of those persons that need and instructor there with you then this is not the thing for you.

    Ricardo Garcia
    San Diego, CA

  21. I drew the pirate when I was 17. I didn’t get the call from the rep until I was 20. I was still excited because I had tried conventional college and hated it with an extreme passion. I quit within one semester. I’ve honestly learned more with AIS than I ever would have in college. I love the program and the rep was really nice. All the staff is rather nice on the phone. I love the fact that the professors even draw a copy of what your assignment should be and overlay it on the original project. It is a whole lot more personal than anything I received at college.

  22. I disagree with your article. What I learned from Art Instruction School was the groundwork to my successful 25 plus years as a storyboard artist, working primarily for advertising agencies. If you care to see some samples as a little proof, my online portfolio is here: and since this site is being redesigned right now, my new blog at: will always link to the latest one.

    Thank you for this opportunity to express my POV.
    Kaz Mayeda

  23. Hi…I was seaching the “can you draw this pirate” slogan and came across your post. My grandfather, an artist, did that very sketch many, many years ago and applied for the course. In fact, the courseware, three binders, are stunning. They contain everything from anatomy to plein air with color plates. I agree…physically attending a course is probably the best, but surely this could have been a viable option for those who do not live near such schools. Blessings

  24. NOT A SCAM: At 17 a rep from the school met with me and my parents, but I agreed that I may not have the comittment to complete a correspondence course. At 36 I finally enrolled and eventually paid for my enrollment, still I lacked the ability to complete…my fault…with only 4 lessons to go, and lowest score on homework was B once or twice. I LEARNED A LOT MORE FROM THE CORRESPONDENCE COURSE THAN ALL THE ART LESSONS IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITY COLLEGE…that I still (62 years old) have one class to complete for a AA in Art after 20 years. THE SCHOOL WAS GOOD, THE LESSONS WERE GOOD, and the expense was less than you would have to pay anywhere else for the quality.

  25. An artist friend of mine went through the entire AIS course, and when I said I was considering signing up, she let me flip through all the materials. As an art student whose taken many, many art courses, I can tell you that the materials were impressive. I ended up going in a different direction, career-wise, but had I stayed on this path, I would have signed up for this course in a heartbeat. NO hesitation!

    I agree with whomever said it above: paying for a service does not make it a scam, otherwise all businesses would be considered scams. (Including Target – going there for shampoo and having them ask you for money in trade for it does not a scam make. ALL art courses cost money, whether it’s through community education, craft stores, colleges, art tutors….etc.)

  26. I never have finished these lessons as after several of them, I became very disappointed in the quality of the materials a student is given. The drawing board is nice and I still use it, but the quality of the paints for a specific lesson were something a child in PreSchool use. I also found the critique of my drawings to be a little overly-critical. To learn by yourself can be a very miserable experience as well. The text of the lessons are actually rather good and are like something that could be taught in a high school, but isn’t college level in my opinion. Maybe if this organization started working with AI Institutes and more name-brand QUALITY materials that are much more geared towards becoming a professional, I would have had a more satisfactory opinion.

  27. I drew the pirate, earned myself an 80% tuition credit, so im only paying like 130 a month or w/e, but when i first signed up and the guy came to my house, it was kind of weird, but it seemed okay I continue when I can though, I just dont really see myself in an art profession as I dont really ‘enjoy’ drawing. I just use my skills as a tool for other things such as writing, (for instance i am currently writing a campaign setting book for my dnd habit lol.

  28. The only problem with AIS is they dont give you a Fine Arts Degree when you finish, just a certificate, which to many employers, will get your resume trashed when they are looking for an artist. As you notice, almost every alumni they advertise about is self-employed.

  29. I took the test just to see what they would say. They failed me even though I already have a Bachelors in Fine Arts from an accredited art school and make a living painting portraits on canvas and have been represented by galleries. I think they only want people that don’t have any skill at all because I blew that test out of the water.

  30. LOL at the guy above me #30 saying their a scam because they didn’t want him although he is an artist. You don’t need instruction and they know that. If they wanted to take people’s money who best to take than those who don’t even need instruction. They probably knew your name, they are art teachers and artists themselves. Only a scammer would take someones money to teach them something they already know.

  31. Actually, I first got started doing this correspondence course! And it was a great experience for me :)

  32. I had always had a talent for art. I grew up in it. My father was an engineer and commercial artist. My mother was a painter and sculptor. They taught me to draw as soon as I could hold a pencil.
    Back in 1993 I called the number an received the test… I sent it back, got the call, and met with the rep. I was in and I was very happy.
    When I received the supplies back and the first (basic) lessons… I was almost discouraged from going through with it. The lessons were basically “How to trace” using a grid system, at this time I had no need to trace. My parents called me a human photocopier. If you gave me something I could recreate it to the point of them not being able to tell which was which.
    But I continued figuring that the lessons would advance to being more difficult… They didn’t.
    In the intermediate lessons, you don’t trace, but you still use the grid system, which is fine if you need it.
    The way they grade you is to take a vellum overlay of the original piece, tape it over your work and point out what was wrong with it. This prompted the test….(my test) I used photoshop to take what they wanted me to draw, copied it, made it the right scale and dimensions, made it look like a pencil drawingand printed it on to the page. (though you could tell it was printed and not drawn) they gave me a grade of B+ saying my strokes were off and that my line weight was too heavy (because it was printed in black ink.) This was my second clue something wasn’t right.
    About 1/4 way through the advanced portion of the courses I had sent them my last payment… No more fees, but still getting my classes right???… Wrong.
    I stopped receiving my graded results, when I called them, the told me they didn’t receive one of the asignments and until that one came in, they could not grade the rest. I requested a second version of that lesson and they did send it to me. I completed it and sent it in. (Registered and signiture required mail) it was recieved and signed for it. No results again. So I called them again and again they said they had no record of it. I told them when it was recieved and who signed for it and they told me they would get back to me. I called them again after a month had past. Again I was told their was no record of the lesson on file and no record of my previous call. This got me angry. I waited again while they tried to get it sorted out. A month later I called them again..,
    This is where it gets really interesting. They told me they had no record of me or any of my completed work. I had been wiped from their system and even though I had reciepts from them and the bank statements as well as the returned cashed check they said there was nothing they could do at that time.
    It seems to me that if you are going to do this and your fees are going to finish before the course, hold off on the last payment until you are finished as well. Don’t call and complain either… It is easier for them to ignore you then it is to help you.

  33. Sorry, none of the links work in this article work.

  34. i positively love art, i would love to get a scholarship to a art institute. i am still in middle school but i dream about keeping my dream going of being a professional artist. please post another coment if this is a actual artist thing that is still going on.

  35. The main question to ask is the reason that the administration and faculty is running a school and not actively working in the field themselves.

  36. Famous Artist School ( a correspondence course) still lives, give quality instruction and will recently be “on-line” . They have a web site and the cost is considerably less than AIS. FAS has a history…and the “scam” issue ius nover brought against this art correspondence school. Check it out ( some one above mentioind FAS as being very helpful).

  37. if someone knows the isbn numbers of the textbooks or DVDS let me know. I can’t afford the tuition but I want to start in the right direction. Also, former students, can you do some youtube videos.

  38. actually I believe I drew a bear, and I won and was CHOSEN to be a ‘student’ back in 2002. it was a great program! it was TWO years! they sent me binders each month with a new lesson, explaining and showing what my task was. i would create and send back to them. later i received tracing paper over the image with edits and comments critiquing and showing exactly what i did wrong and how to improve. it was extremely helpful in learning new skills. they had all types of mediums and techniques and even supplied paints and such. i now am doing portraits. heres my site :)

    it was definitely a great program, extremely useful and really well put together.

  39. oh and to add, i paid nothing! it was all free for being chosen. so they are legit and real and help artists :)

  40. i see this was in 93? wow! strange experience. im not sure what happened but in 2002 i did the course and i didnt pay a cent. i won a ‘scholarship’ from my drawing i sent in and i completed it without any fees. so i wonder if they just changed or i was just lucky and they only give certain amount of people free courses. 

  41. I did one of those drawings at age 16 and got a letter back saying it was traced.   Well duh, it wasn’t and i have been a disney artist for the last 10 yrs.  lol 

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