The Escape Artist
Why Paul King ditched Royal Oak for an Up North trout stream and got back to his drawing board.
By Ross Boissoneau | Dec. 1, 2018
Paul King has always had an interest in art. So it’s probably not a surprise that he’s drawn caricatures of popular musicians, from Dave Brubeck to Stephen Tyler.
What is a surprise is how he got there — and here, meaning his riverside abode and studio outside Beulah. “I was pre-med at MSU. I wanted to be a thoracic surgeon,” said King. That changed when he decided he didn’t want to be in school that long. “Science yes, [but] I didn’t want to do that for eight years. I changed to art.”
He’d always been drawing and sketching and thought he’d apply his art to some aspect of business. But when he graduated, ad agencies were not hiring — they were laying people off. He instead landed a job creating slideshows for corporations like Ford. That went well until video came along. “Video killed multi-slide; I dumped my equipment and started Fresh Produce,” said King. That’s his creative design studio, where he creates 2D and 3D presentations for commercials and trade shows, does illustrations and web design.
All was going well there until the recession hit. His largest client, John Deere, discontinued its annual meetings, which had been the bulk of his business. He decided to make himself more viable with the latest advances in software, and learning various 3D and CGI platforms.
At the same time, though, he felt a tugging toward his old love. “Last year, I had a three-week break. I thought, I hadn’t drawn anything for years. I drew Paul McCartney and put it on Facebook,” King said.
The response was better than he could have ever hoped. “My friends would say, ‘This is great.’ A set designer from New York, a producer from California, all said ‘Why don’t you do this?’”
So he did. But then there was the question of how to get his artwork printed. For that, he turned to Vada Color in Traverse City, which uses the high-end giclée process to make a high-quality art reproduction. “There are four or five [such high-end printers] in Michigan, and one is in Traverse City. I’m just a half-hour away. They print on demand, and I don’t have to manage a warehouse.”
He took his show on the road this summer, showcasing his work at art shows across the state. “It was my first summer doing art shows. It was fun. I met a lot of people.
“It’s cheap advertising,” King continued. “I think this will take five to 10 years to really get going.”
His inspirations cut across genres and date from the ’50s through the 2000s, classic rock to country, jazz, blues, pop. Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley are shoulder to shoulder with Tom Waits and Robert Smith from The Cure. There’s Bono, Jim Morrison, Stevie Nicks, Beyonce, Leadbelly, and Frank Sinatra. Even Charles Dickens and Balin from The Hobbit.
So why Beulah? Well, if art was King’s first love, fly fishing wasn’t far behind. He had a goal of living in a log home on a trout stream by the time he was 45, and in 1999 bought a vacant lot on the Platte River. He built a home in 2005 and for three years went back and forth between Up North and his home in Royal Oak. It got to the point he didn’t want to go back downstate — so he didn’t.
Last year he sold the home in Royal Oak, and he now lives here permanently. “It’s a Beulah address, though it’s only 4 miles to Honor and 10 to Beulah. “I work out of my home anyway,” King said.
“I lived in Royal Oak 28 years and knew three neighbors. I knew the names of more dogs than people. I love the culture here. People depend on each other. It’s a sense of community. I feel like I’m on vacation every day.”