The Electrical Life of Louis Wain - Interview with artist Thomasina Smith

by Cass Art

We interviewed painter and designer Thomasina Smith about her work on the new film The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, in cinemas from New Year’s Day.

The extraordinary true story of eccentric British artist Louis Wain has been brought to the big screen by director Will Sharpe. Louis Wain is known as a man who drew cats, a talented, ambidextrous artist, he was born in 1860 and by the turn of the century was a household name. Wain’s influence as an illustrator cannot be overstated, he proved adept at animal portraiture, humorous cartoons, sketches, and paintings.

Many people today would recognise a ‘Louis Wain Cat’ if it were presented to them. His work has seeped into our cultural consciousness transforming cats into beloved household pets. Thomasina explains “he [Louis Wain] changed the way animals were seen forever - previously cats were only kept as mousers. My favourites are his psychedelic cats…they are extraordinary.”

Thomasina’s career in film started in 1994, “my first job for film was the Chagall painting Julia Roberts gives to Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, after that I went on to work on many films including Love is the Devil, Harry Potter, Dr Strange and The Nevers”. Before working on The Electrical Life of Louis Wain Thomasina was familiar with Wain’s work, but not the breadth of it. “I loved Wain’s total fixation on what he was doing, and that it came out of a deep connection with his first cat Peter”

As well as painting most of the Louis Wain replicas for the film, Thomasina also tutored Benedict Cumberbatch, teaching him how to wield his pencil just like Louis Wain. “What makes the job interesting is that many of the paintings I was involved with had to look like the animals used in the film, so were not direct copies of originals but following originals.”

We asked Thomasina for her top five tips for drawing animals and cats:

  1. Draw from real animals if you can as well as photographs, nothing beats sketching from life. I am lucky to have 2 cats which I made sketches from for the film. Cats will stay still sometimes for a while, and it’s interesting to do quick movement sketches
  2. Break down the animal’s face and body into simple shapes before going into detail
  3. Experiment with different materials
  4. Think about ways to render fur that are expressive, think about silhouette
  5. Wain anthropomorphised his images, so he looked at human behaviours and character types and exaggerated features to get a heightened effect (for example spikey hair)

Feeling inspired? 

To see Thomasina’s work please visit www.thomasinasmithart.com or visit her Instagram page @thomasina_film_interiors. You can read more artist interviews on the Cass Art blog or check out our range of drawing materials to sketch your own cat! 

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is Directed by Will Sharpe. Story by Simon Stephenson. Screenplay by Simon Stephenson and Will Sharpe. In cinemas New Year’s Day. Special previews + Q&A with Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy & Will Sharpe – December 29th. Watch the trailer below...

Images 2, 4 & 5 courtesy of Chris Beetles Gallery, see these original works + many more at London exhibition. More details: chrisbeetles.com

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