“Labels are irrelevant” How Character Design is Battling Judgement from a New Angle

Nathan Richards, 21, is an Australian illustrator using character design to break down barriers and prove that there’s beauty in everyone.

I came out only a year ago as a queer. When I did, I realized how afraid I had been to be my true self. Now, as an artist, I feel like it’s my responsibility to inform people.

I use character design to dismiss the stigma and discrimination towards homosexuality. I want to depict humans as humans. I want to spread positivity. I don’t want to be stigmatized. No one should. We all share love. Labels are irrelevant.

Through a vibrant color palette, facial expressions and body language, I hope to portray that no matter our sexuality, race or gender, we are all human. We all deserve love, joy, warmth, and acceptance.

I take a cartoon approach to infuse a sense of playfulness and lightheartedness that make my characters approachable for a broad audience. That’s what makes character design so effective in changing minds: you can’t judge something that’s not real.

I want people to see my artwork and use it as a way to familiarize themselves with cultures that they may not understand, to see the beauty in humanity’s differences. I want to uplift people and show that there is no need for fear or discrimination.

Illustrating these characters – focusing on creating something that doesn’t exist in reality – is such a powerful tool for breaking down and questioning our idea of gender. I have used the contrast between the bearded man and the draping floral clothing to question and draw attention to our notions of masculinity and femininity.

Frida Kahlo is a historical icon who embodies the strength of femininity. By dressing this masculine character in clothing reminiscent of Kahlo’s, I offer a new path that negates the binary of what should be female and what should be male.

Why can’t men wear flowers, pink and clothing that is typically feminine?

Why can’t we celebrate and embrace the strength of females who have constantly had to prove their worth throughout our history?

In the real world, we force ourselves to use labels. Character design is just another way for us to see things in a different light. It strips things away – we are just basic shapes. I want to show that we are all just human.

For more of Nathan’s work, check out his work on Behance.