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Clara Vulliamy

Clara Vulliamy was born in London and studied at Chelsea School of Art, The Ruskin and the Royal Academy. She is the daughter of the celebrated author-illustrator Shirley Hughes and began illustrating picture books when she had her own children. She has since written and illustrated many stories, sometimes collaborating with her mother. She lives in Twickenham, with her husband and their daughters, Leah and Martha.

As a child

I was born and grew up in Notting Hill in London. My Dad was an architect and also brilliant at drawing and printmaking, and my Mum was – and still is! – Shirley Hughes, so art was in the air we breathed. All I loved to do (all I COULD do) was draw. If I finished my piece of paper I carried on onto the table and up the walls without even noticing. I also made magazines and newspapers, mostly about my cats who were my best friends. Mum let me use up her paints at the end of the day: she says it was like someone being allowed to lick the bowl after icing a cake.

As an adult

I studied History at Bristol University for three days, but never even unpacked my suitcase – I thought ‘WHAT AM I DOING HERE??’ and ranaway to art school. I went to The Ruskin in Oxford, Chelsea School of Art and The Royal Academy. I started my career as an illustrator for grown ups, and drew a weekly cartoon in The Guardian with Mark Haddon. When my first daughter was just two weeks old I wrote and illustrated my first picture book, which was called Ellen and Penguin. And who should give me my first lucky break by publishing it? Walker Books!

As an artist

I have a studio room at the top of the house overlooking the garden and rooftops. When my family were small I quickly learned that if you don’t want to be disturbed then DON’T shut the door – it only leads to more knocking and calling through the keyhole! Now the house is empty and quiet in the day which is nice; I prefer complete silence when I’m working and I don’t like to have a phone or computer in the room. I hoard a tremendous amount of clutter and my desk is very untidy. If I’m stuck on an idea I sometimes sit at the kitchen table instead, or in a café or even on a train travelling to nowhere in particular.

Things you didn’t know about Clara Vulliamy

  1. When I was small I had my hair cut short which I didn’t like, so I often wore a pair of tights on my head and pretended that the legs were my long plaits.
  2. I like Marmite so much I can eat it straight from the jar with a spoon.
  3. I can’t ride a bicycle.
  4. My favourite colour is any kind of blue, and my favourite weather is sunny and cold.
  5. I’m seriously considering a tattoo of an ampersand (which is the & symbol).
  6. I find singing in public very embarrassing, even if it’s by somebody else. If there is karaoke I have to leave the room.
  7. I collect miniature dolls house food. My favourite is a tiny tube of Smarties, no bigger than my finger nail.
  8. I can’t really work our TV, and have to pretend to be very busy while actually waiting for someone else to put it on.
  9. My favourite food is vinegar-y chips eaten out newspaper by the seaside.
  10. When I was about 7 I found a little stray kitten under a bush in the garden, soaking wet from the rain. I took her into the house and asked my Mum if we could keep her and she said YES. I now know that this kind of thing usually only happens in stories!

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