By Max Sullivan
Hampton Beachcomber, August 15, 2014
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Beachcomber and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON – For a quarter of a century, one thing has been constant at Hampton Beach – Paul Gaunt’s caricature booth. He’s been a regular stop for many beachgoers since he first showed up on the strip 23 years ago.
Gaunt has spent the majority of his career in Hampton. He got his start in the mid 1980’s while studying at Indiana University, drawing other students at fraternity parties. After graduating, he decided to drive around the country in a van, drawing caricatures from Key West to California.
Then, in 1991, he found a spot to settle into on the corner of D Street and Ocean Boulevard. With the exception of one summer, which he took to work in San Diego, he’s been in Hampton ever since. Three years ago, he moved into a new location in the Hampton Casino complex.
Hampton Beach’s tourist traffic makes it the ideal spot for a caricaturist, Gaunt said.
“This is a concentration of people who are on vacation,” Gaunt said. “They are in a mentality where you’re going to shell out a little bit when you’re on vacation …The urgency (to splurge) is there.”
After all these years, Gaunt said the job remains a fun but a difficult challenge. He tries to make it look easy, but getting a likeness is tough work, and a variety of factors play in to how good the drawing comes out.
Gaunt likened it to hitting a pitch in baseball.
“During a good drawing is like hitting a pitch. The pitch is the subject. How good he is, how engaging he is, and if it’s good, I’m probably going to hit it pretty good. Gaunt said. “My average is pretty good, I’d say.”
Gaunt said a model’s enthusiasm plays a “pretty key” part in how the drawing will end up. If a model isn’t engaging, it’s difficult to bring out their likeness, he said.
“If he model pays attention to me, looks at me, then it’s going to be pretty good,” Gaunt said. “A lot of people just tune me out. They got their cell phone, they’re looking around and I try to get their attention… they don’t look at you, and it’s hard to do it that way.”
Couples are ideal to draw, Gaunt said. Having two subjects of different genders allows their distinct features to jump out.
If a girl sits down and she’s the only subject, I’ll draw her, but if she’s with a guy, I might draw her a little different based on what he looks like,” Gaunt said. “When you see two people, all of a sudden you’re contrasting, you know?... if she’s got a round face, you might go more round on her (if there is a guy in the picture).”
Gaunt has drawn subjects of all shapes and sizes, and that includes some who might not be the prettiest or most handsome. How do you draw a likeness without offending them? Gaunt said that drawing a cartoon of someone calls for simplification, and that allows the artist to “clean up” some of their less flattering features. It’s not always easy to do, he said, but it allows him to do his job and not make a girl scream or cry.
I’m not trying to pull any punches,” Gaunt said. “But when you draw someone, you kind of simplify by necessity, and you can do that, so I try to get a likeness… but you can make it look like them and kind of clean them up a little. Clean up the rough edges.”
It’s not always easy to please the customer, though. On one occasion, he was even called out by a celebrity who saw himself on Gaunt’s wall.
Twenty years ago, while working in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, Gaunt felt a tap on the shoulder.
“I’ve got more hair then that,” the man said as he touched him.
Gaunt turned around. The man’s grill was in his face, but he didn’t recognize him immediately. The stranger pointed at Gaunt’s sign, on which the cast of Seinfeld was drawn, and repeated himself: “I’ve got more hair than that.”
When Gaunt looked at the sign, he realized it was Jason Alexander, who played George Costanza on the show. Alexander meant it in good humor.
“I recognized him, and slapped him on he shoulder,” Gaunt said. “It was all on the down low. It was kind of hush-hush. It was cool.”
Gaunt has gained many repeat customers over the years. He’s drawn some of the same people annually for decades, as well as their children. Gaunt appreciates the repeat business, which makes up half of his customers he
said. “A lot of people will say, “Oh, we’ve got a wall (of Gaunt’s drawings),” Gaunt said. “I appreciate that they like it.”