Paul Gaunt Draws People to 'Pack a Punch'

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Caricaturist has Spent 19 Summers at Hampton Beach

By Melanie Gray

Hampton Union, Tuesday, June 29, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Caricaturist Paul Gaunt
[Melanie Gray Photo]

HAMPTON BEACH -- Armed with markers, pastels and Rave hair spray, caricaturist Paul Gaunt has taken up shop on Hampton Beach for 19 of the past 20 summer seasons.

"If I'm sitting here without a customer, I see people that I'd love to draw, and I hate when they walk by," he said. "Inevitably, when I start drawing a person, I find beauty in them. By the end of the drawing, I think they're just beautiful. I find beauty in drawing people."

Gaunt, who began his career as a caricaturist while he was a fine arts student at Indiana University 25 years ago, said he was inspired by his neighbor, who was a portrait artist, while he was growing up.

"When I graduated college, I thought, 'I could do portraits,'" he said. "Then I thought, caricature makes more sense."

After meeting caricaturist Mike Fentz, who Gaunt describes as "kind of (his) hero," he bought a van and set off on an adventure. He toured the country, doing caricatures (often for free) at different festivals, including at Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

Gaunt said it took him almost five years of doing live caricatures before he felt comfortable with his skills and says he learned mainly by doing.

"Doing a good drawing is the best part, the satisfaction of nailing a likeness," Gaunt said. "It can be like an athletic event, like a gymnastics event. You can go out there and fall, but if you 'stick it,' it feels good. I'm comfortable with my ratio of good drawings to not the greatest in the world."

One of Gaunt's most memorable experiences came while he was working in Faneuil Hall in Boston nearly 15 years ago. With a caricature of the cast of "Seinfeld" on display, Gaunt went to work.

"Someone comes up and puts his hand on my shoulder and starts talking in my ear," Gaunt said. "He said, 'I've got more hair than that.'"

Gaunt turned to see Jason Alexander, who played George Costanza on the hit sitcom.

"The worst part is the comments you hear people say," Gaunt said. "I can hear 100 compliments, but then if you get one negative comment, especially if it's at the end of the day, it kind of gets under your skin."

While many caricaturists tend to exaggerate people's features, Gaunt said he tends to steer away from that. He says the purpose of a caricature is to make an impact and he aims to draw portraits that "pack a punch."

"I'm not interested in blowing out features," he said. "I kind of want to make it good, rather than funny. I want to make a caricature look more like you by heightening reality."

While Gaunt said he doesn't have a typical customer, most are younger.

"I draw people who say they'd never get a caricature," he said. "They see what I do and they say, 'I want a caricature.'"

During the offseason, Gaunt lives in Indiana, where he works out of his home studio and draws live caricatures at parties in the greater Indianapolis area.

For the better part of the last year, Gaunt, who won the "Golden Nosey Award" for outstanding live caricature at the International Society of Caricature Artists' convention in 2002, has been working on a presidents poster.

"I've got a lot of hours in it," he said. "It's the most labor-intensive thing I've ever done. It's kind of my magnum opus."

The poster features each of the country's 44 presidents and can be seen outside Gaunt's booth.

Caricature artist Paul Gaunt works on a piece at his shop near the Casino.
[Rich Beauchesne Photo]
Caricaturist Paul Gaunt with his presidents poster.
[Melanie Gray Photo]
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