This Months featured illustrator is one of the hosts of Friday Doodle Club on instagram and recently signed to The Plum Agency. Marie-Charlotte Yao (Macha) is a Leeds-based illustrator and graphic designer, with a masters degree in film editing and cinema SFX.

Hi, my name is Marie-Charlotte Yao, but most people call me Macha. I’m a children’s illustrator and graphic designer living in Leeds. I arrived in UK in 2016 after growing up in France and living most of my young adult life between Asia (China and Japan) and France.



Little me in my natural environment in Brittany.


I have had a bit of a winding path that finally led me to where I am now. As a kid I remember getting lost in Richard Scarry books and later reading an incredible amount of Bandes DessinéesAstérix was my absolute fave. Growing up I would often make my own little graphic novels. I was really passionate about film too and ended up doing a master's degree in film editing and cinema SFX in Paris, and even got the opportunity to intern at Cartoon Network Paris. From then on, I worked as a freelancer with different companies. I took many online classes and set up my portable graphic design studio whilst I was living in Asia. It was an amazing time, but not always living ‘the dream’; there were times I was creating logos for my family members while surviving on 7/11 lunch boxes.


Living life as a digital nomad in China circa 2009.

Having continued to illustrate in and alongside my graphic design work, I realised that I still really wanted to try and make it in children’s publishing, my first love. Moving to the UK was also a big factor, as the books are just so beautiful. Never judge a book by its cover they say, well, it’s impossible here! Being a new mum at that time, I spent a lot of time at the library, reading stories to my kids, and also daydreaming about having my own books there one day. I eventually took a leap of faith and decided to join a Make Art That Sells class about Illustrating Picture Books. 


My first assignment on the MATS children’s books course – a world away from my art now!


It was a bit overwhelming to see all the incredible work from other students when I was at the very beginning of my journey, but by the end I learned a lot of technical and design-based skills and met my work family! They have been here every step of the way since then: JenBrenda and Sandra. We launched The Friday Doodle Club after taking the class together. It’s a weekly Instagram based drawing challenge where we release new prompts each week that anyone can get involved with. We hope to inspire artists (and ourselves) and help with ideas for new projects.


The FDC insta account – come join us.


Since taking the course, I’ve worked hard to further my understanding of the children’s publishing market, develop my style, and develop a suitable portfolio. I also joined SCBWI last year just before the Bologna Book Fair, and even though I wasn’t able to join their incredible events this year, it was lovely to meet them at Bologna. I’m so thankful for their portfolio review there, as it made it possible to get my work in front of a publisher I really love Scholastic. I also managed to get a portfolio review with 3 agencies I admired a lot. I got incredibly valuable feedback, and it was such a roller coaster of emotions. I went home with many new friends in my heart, a much better appreciation of where I fitted in the market, what I wanted to do going forward, and how to take my portfolio to the next level. BCBF was a real turning point for me, and I would recommend a visit to every illustrator, once you have a portfolio you are proud of. Getting feedback there, or at any other event where you can get industry reviews, is so helpful.  


Me meeting my favourite cartoon character Bluey in Bologna.


In the prior years, I submitted my work to agencies without luck, but meeting agents in Bologna really helped to build a relationship. I am pleased to say that a year on from BCBF 2023, I was offered representation by 2 of the 3 agents I met and have now signed with The Plum Agency! So never lose hope, you never know when the little seeds you are planting will bloom! I feel super lucky, and I’m still pinching myself. This is the proof believing in yourself, hard work, and determination can lead you exactly where you dream to be.


An example of a MG portfolio piece I've worked on since Bologna.


If I had to describe my work, I’d say I’m all about fun characters and vibrant/neon colours, as I love 90s aesthetic so much (some may say I’m a bit stuck in that era, my Spotify playlist can’t say otherwise!). I strongly believe children’s books should inspire and empower young readers to be confident in themselves and their abilities. I was a total tomboy growing up and still enjoy illustrating sassy girls on skateboards.


The cool person I’ve always dreamt to be ;)


I work digitally 99% of the time, mainly on my iPad and laptop, although I carry a notebook for doodling bits that sometimes become ideas for future illustrations. I recently developed a passion for multicoloured lead pencils, as they allow me to create my signature neon outlines, and also for Posca pens, because - what’s not to love about a pen that can paint?


How cool are those little pencils? 


Before I start working on any project, I do a lot of research and create a fun mood board for it that I can often refer to. It’s one of the best parts of the job. It usually includes work from other illustrators, colour palettes, and a ton of real-life pictures. I also constantly take reference pictures when I’m travelling or in day-to-day life: my phone is full of images of rain puddles. 


Example of a mood-board I’ve created before starting to work on a kids' magazine cover about Lunar New Year


I’m super excited for what’s to come. My focus right now is on chapter books/middle grade, and graphic novels - I dream of writing my own graphic novel one day… but I would also love to make some picture books as well…yes, I want to do all the things ;) 

A Graphic novel I created for the Folktale Week challenge 2023.

Gallery of illustrations

*All images: Marie-Charlotte Yao (Macha)


See Macha’s Portfolio

Follow Macha on Instagram

Follow Macha on Substack

Contact Macha via Email

For any business inquiries, please contact Macha’s agent


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.
Find their work at fourfooteleven.com 
Follow them on Instagram and Twitter
Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org

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