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How do others see you? Edmonton artist's caricatures highlight what makes people unique

Short interactions are often a joy for artist and subject.

 Edmonton caricature artist Laurel Hawkswell has become an in-demand party guest. Whether booked at corporate events, weddings --even day cares--the 58-year-old says she's grateful to be known as the 'caricature lady'. Though she didn't plan it that way, the energetic Albertan says she's thankful she grabbed the chance some 20 years ago when someone walked into the art store she was working at in search of a caricature artist.

"I said 'I think I can do it' and it started from there," said Hawkswell, who studied graphic design at Grant MacEwan. Because of the freelance nature of her work (which includes cartoon signs, banners and posters) she was able to stay home with her two kids when they were young while getting experience cartooning.

"Caricatures have taken over my life. The last 10 years, it's snowballed from a summer barbecue or staff Christmas party to all the time. But I find joy in it." She describes the short but meaningful interaction she has with every subject seated before her as special, even if it's a mere five minutes as Hawkswell quickly runs her marker along the blank 11 x 14-inch page to create a head-and-shoulders keepsake.

"It might be a wiggly kid, an adult, or couple, but talking with people for a few uninterrupted minutes--it's a unique situation," she said. "They're usually self-conscious, worried I'll see imperfections or make their nose bigger than it is, but I chat while I draw and it relaxes them."

When doing on-the-spot likenesses, Hawkswell says she uses her first impression and 'goes bold, right to the black marker' with something that stands out about a subject: a big smile or a very long face, for instance. "Most people are thrilled with the result. I'm tired after an event, but I almost always leave on a natural high," she said.

Hawkswell says she's noticed middle-aged and older subjects seem relieved when they see how she's drawn them. "I'm capturing someone's essence; I don't have to draw every wrinkle," she laughed, saying her interpretations can differ from how people see themselves. At assisted living facilities, for example, where residents may not look at themselves much in a mirror anymore, Hawkswell says 'They envision their 40-year-old selves so sometimes the caricature is a surprise. But both the residents and their loved ones appreciate the keepsake, and really, it's the time we spend talking together that's most special to them--and me."

For several summers, Hawkswell has been doing caricatures at day care centres too. Though it can make for long days for the artist, taking a toll on her lower back, hands and shoulders, Hawkswell says the kids are usually patient and interested, and sometimes provide her with a good laugh.

"Recently, one kid at the daycare told me, "Last year, an old lady drew me. I knew it was me, and I took it as a compliment that she remembered me," she laughed. "I showed another little girl her caricature and she just hugged me. Kids don't lie."

Zara Dowie said the K-6 kids at the day cares are fascinated with Hawkswell's caricatures, inspiring many to look up computer tutorials on how to draw after they've seen her on task.

"It's amazing how fast Laurel works--she's like a ninja with the caricatures. And the pictures look just like the kids," Dowie said. 

The pandemic has offered Hawkswell respite from steady caricature work-- a chance to paint for herself and create cartoon critters on wood blocks for family Christmas gifts. "I only had to make one trip to the craft store--it was perfect for Christmas COVID shopping."

The artist, who also does more in-depth commissioned caricatures, paintings, murals and more through her blog hilarel.blogspot.com says she'll slow down over time, but can't see stopping altogether.

"I still yearn for more free time to paint, but I'm not retiring. It's who I am."