The Essence of Bernie Sanders by Ryan McAmis
Bernie Sanders has captivated millions of Americans as he makes his bid for the White House. He’s a unique character, especially his political record, and it’s hard to find someone in recent political history who can be compared to him. But his unique features are intangible, as Ryan McAmis recently learned while working on a cover of The National Review. The constituent parts of Bernie’s face and look are rather familiar and that can get tricky when it comes to illustrating an image of him. “Bernie was really hard to do because he doesn’t have many distinctive characteristics,” says Ryan. “His hair is interesting but his face doesn’t have much going on. It’s all in his personality and that’s what was so hard in bringing out because I needed it to feel like Bernie. He kept looking like Dick Cheney. Or like any other old man. He even looked like John McCain. It was like every white haired, bald guy!” If our political history is full of anything it’s white haired, bald guys so Ryan went through a lot of experimentation to place Bernie apart from his aesthetic familiars.
The illustrations that Ryan creates are deceptively simple, but they have built into them an incredible amount of work and experimentation. It’s a dichotomy that gets him the results he wants. “I like to do a quick sketch,” explains Ryan. “I do them over and over again so I get them right, because I like them to be as spontaneous looking as possible even though it takes days to get it. I like things that look like they were done in an instant but behind them is like a week’s worth of work.” He simplifies the images, taking out every unnecessary line he can, and then uses three-dimensional elements to complete the look. For Bernie, it was his hair. Ryan combed out some cotton yarn to get the right fluffy, thin, wily look.
But nothing sold Bernie's look quite like the mouth and eyes. “Once I got the mouth and the eyes I knew I got it. Even those eyes were a little too overdrawn,” says Ryan about the eyes which are each only a black dot and a line. “I wanted them to be dots. He needed to have a little bit more into him to make him work.” Ryan’s pursuit of absolute essentials makes for a drawing that is as pared down as possible but filled with the essence of Bernie Sanders. In a flood of images of this new pop icon, carefully composed and manipulated by artists who want to put their own stamp on his story, we have this cover image that in a few lines and puffs of cotton somehow gets closer to Bernie's character than any photograph could.