A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Dreaming up a new character and bringing them to life on the page… by Clara Vulliamy

I can only invent a new character with a pencil in my hand and a scrap of paper in front of me: what they look like and who they are utterly woven together. These are the pencils in my pencil-case, solid graphite for a rich velvety line, ranging from soft to very soft, pointy to blunt…
(it’s a truthful picture, so I didn’t remove the sachet of HP sauce that was mysteriously in there too)


Doing the illustrations for Dixie O’Day, the new collaboration with my Mum Shirley Hughes, was a departure for me: for the first time I would be working in black and white (with a splash of colour, but only here and there).


Giving visual form to Dixie, because I’m not the author too as I usually am, meant reading the text and responding to the words in a very immediate, instinctive way. I knew at once that he should be a dog, a bit stout around the waist, with a dashing Mad Men style three piece suit and a reassuring smile.

I looked carefully at pictures of real dogs, and then put them out of my mind. I also played my favourite game which is Mad Men Yourself –
– perhaps rather too much, but that’s another story.

The following pictures are from a rarely seen notebook of my first character sketches for the book.


I needed to know what Dixie looks like expressing a range of different moods.


I also find that a character only really comes alive in context.
Enter his best pal Percy,


and his arch-enemy Lou Ella.


And we ALL know that we are what we love. So once I had invented the character of Dixie’s beloved car (oh yes – cars have characters too) I reckoned I had earned a little play with my paint box!


claraPortraitClara Vulliamy
I was born in London, daughter of author illustrator Shirley Hughes and architect John Vulliamy. My first experience of making pictures was being allowed to use up my Mum’s paints at the end of the day, which was like scraping the icing out of the bowl after baking.
I studied Fine Art at Chelsea School of Art, The Ruskin and The Royal Academy. After graduating I began illustrating in newspapers and magazines, and doing a weekly cartoon in The Guardian. I started writing and illustrating children’s books when I had a family of my own, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve made around 30 books, including The Bear with Sticky Paws, Lucky Wish Mouse and Martha and the Bunny Brothers.
I live in Twickenham with my husband, our two grown-up children and a gang of cheeky guinea pigs.

6 comments on “Dreaming up a new character and bringing them to life on the page… by Clara Vulliamy

  1. emmapass
    September 16, 2013

    Gorgeous post, Clara! This made my Monday. 😀

  2. Emma Haughton
    September 16, 2013

    God, I’d so love to be able to draw. Lovely illustrations!

  3. Clara Vulliamy (@ClaraVulliamy)
    September 16, 2013

    Thank you, Emma! And thank you so much for including me as an Allsort…

  4. Clara Vulliamy (@ClaraVulliamy)
    September 16, 2013

    Thank you Emma, that’s so kind of you to say… I can barely do ANYTHING else – I’d so love to be able to write proper books!

  5. kateormand
    September 16, 2013

    Love this post, Clara!

  6. Clara Vulliamy (@ClaraVulliamy)
    September 16, 2013

    Thank you Kate! There’s something nice about the immediacy of the first sketch – and something very challenging about trying to hang on to it…

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