« Back to News

Clara Vulliamy on inventing Dixie and Percy

Children's Books

Clara Vulliamy, illustrator of the Dixie O’Day books, discusses how she created the characters of Dixie and Percy and the world which they inhabit. She also gives an insight into her sketchbook.

“The first few moments are the most important.

How characters pop into my mind’s eye and become more and more real, substantial and fleshed out with detail, is one of the most satisfying yet also mysterious aspects of the creative process.

Sketchbook open and pencil in hand, I quickly draw what I see in my imagination.


I knew at once that Dixie and Percy would be dogs, although the author (my Mum, Shirley Hughes) never tried to influence this decision. I knew that Dixie would be the larger of the two, stout and dependable, ears down. I wanted to find the right doggish head shape and physique, just as a starting point. A browse through my trusty book of dog breeds: Dixie would be an Irish Setter. Percy should be smaller, more nervy, ears pricked: a white Lancashire Heeler.

The styling would be late fifties, early sixties. I looked at Mad Men for their suits and shoes, and watched some classic American TV of my childhood – Yogi Bear, Top Cat, Scooby Doo – for pose and posture.
Tough homework, what an ordeal!

Dixie’s car would be a personality in it’s own right.


In the books we have never once seen inside the glove compartment, but I need to know what’s in there.

I also need to know what a character looks like expressing different emotions, and any other objects or details that seem relevant.


Then there’s Dixie’s arch enemy, Lou Ella.

Mum said afterwards that she was expecting a bit of an old battle axe, but how much more threatening a younger and more glamorous creation turned out to be.


I have written on my notes:

Lou Ella is an absolute babe, but horrid; think Penelope Pitstop going over to THE DARK SIDE.

I know what I mean by this, even if it seems rather oblique at first glance!

So here I am, just beginning the fifth Dixie book, and I still have these first drawings pinned up in front of me, to look at and inspire me.
Dixie and Percy. Best pals.


When an author has given you a truly wonderful story to illustrate, bringing it to life visually is like that scene in The Railway Children on the station platform. Because when the smoke clears and your character emerges, the strongest feeling is that of familiarity, as if you have known them forever.”

By Clara Vulliamy for The Agency’s Children’s Books blog

Published: 2nd June 2015