Image: Justin Bishop

Two turtles from Houston meet and fall in love. Clint and Heather take a road trip to West Texas, where he’s from, riding a tandem bike, eating at the Food Shark truck, going hiking, seeing the town’s famous lights, and checking out art pieces like the iconic Prada Marfa installation. Later they visit New York City, and he proposes to her outside of the real-life Prada store on 5th Avenue. She says yes, the turtles get married, and they live happily ever after.

This is a fantastical version of the true story of how Heather Morgan and her husband, Clint, fell in love. To mark the five years since they met, Heather commissioned a local artist to do a series of 12 drawings depicting the progression of their relationship. Then, over a period of a month, the artworks were sent to their Eastwood-area home through the mail, one by one, much to her husband’s delight.

“We’re not really gift-givers,” Morgan explains, “so I wanted something more sentimental, and to write a story about our love story.”

Morgan purchased the drawings through a Houston business started by Alex Kurkowski, a classmate of hers at the Rice MBA program, from which the two will graduate next year. In 2017 Kurkowski, wanting to put what he’s learned in school to practice, launched Tellinga.com—as in, telling-a story—with the idea of connecting artists with consumers and offering personalized, one-of-a-kind, narrative-based greeting cards, either original drawings or paintings.

Packages run from $5.99 for a one-day story with a single image, to $14.99 or $24.99 for a one- or two-week story (with three or six images, respectively), to $39.99 for a dozen images over a month—a steal, when you think about it—done by one of 16 student artists at Rice or UH.

When you buy a package on the website, you submit a rating from G to R, a genre such as comedy or sci-fi, a photo for the artist to use, and, of course, the story you want to tell, like this example from the site: Andres is an avid fisherman. While out in the deep sea and under hurricane conditions, he battles a fish for 3 straight days only to find out that it’s a giant shark with the head and face of his cat named “Poppy.” Note: The name of his boat is Suki.

Kurkowski says he founded Tellinga because he enjoys making people happy, and believes receiving a gift on actual paper is more meaningful in today’s digital world. Whether or not the site is ultimately successful, it’s been fun, and a learning experience. “A lot of this has been, ‘Hey, I’m gonna try it and if it works, it works,” he says. “If it doesn’t, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

As for Morgan, she says the drawings Tellinga sent to Clint—done by artist Justin Bishop, who’s studying civil engineering at Rice—are something special. “You’re usually just getting bills and junk mail in the mailbox, but it was refreshing to see something in the mail that was personal and meant a lot with our love story,” she says. “Not knowing what it was going to look like, I was excited to see what the artist drew from the blurb about Clint and I falling in love and our early love story. My husband enjoyed seeing it unfold with a personalized piece of art.”

We had to ask, though: why turtles? Turns out, in the early days of the couple’s relationship, Heather, eager to impress her future husband, would join him on runs. But, she explains, she’s a “really slow runner,” and Clint would have to circle back so they could stick together. She became The Turtle, the nickname stuck, and apparently he’s one now, too.

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