At her home in Belfast, Maine, writer and artist Leslie Moore settles in each morning for an early start on the day. Her home is just up from the water, with only a few houses between her and Penobscot Bay.
“I have a little studio in my backyard,” she described, a prebuilt shed shipped in on a flatbed truck. In the smallish, 12 by 16 space, she usually focuses on one thing at a time, either printmaking or drawing. But on one morning in early October, she paused for celebration. This month marked the release of her brand-new book, What Rough Beasts, a skillful and beautiful blending of poems, vibrant prints, and even some of Moore’s pen and ink drawings.
The title was drawn from a poem by W.B. Yeats—not surprising for an artist who worked as an English teacher for 25 years. But Moore didn’t spend those decades in just one classroom. “I’ve taught all over,” she explained. Her experiences ranged from leading classes at a high school in Massachusetts to serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea and Africa.
Her deep attachment to words and art are matched by a love of animals that has been with her for life. “I probably learned the names of animals before I said mommy and daddy,” she laughed. Appropriately, her career as an artist began with commissioned pet portraits done in pen and ink.
Though her subject matter remains focused on the nuanced world of animals, she has added an entirely different medium to her repertoire thanks to a course with Siri Beckman she took in 2008 at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, ME.
“It was just a one-day course, and we carved and printed and took home a linocut. It just really took with me,” she recalled. After that, she went out, got all of the equipment she needed, and went to town. Since then, Moore has taken a variety of courses, including studies of Moku Hanga, Japanese woodblock printing, and White Line printmaking, a streamlined process invented by a group of women in Provincetown, MA.
The linocut and woodcut styles Moore uses are similar in that they’re both called relief printmaking. “What you do is cut your design into a flat surface, either wood or linoleum with a series of gouges and knives,” she described. Once the design is finished, the artist inks the flat surface with a little, rubber roller called a brayer and presses the paper into that ink. “You can do it by hand, which I did for many years using the back of a wooden spoon,” Moore explained.
She now relies on a tiny press called an Xcut Xpress, which is actually intended for die cutting. However, she said, “A bunch of printmakers in England discovered it works as a great little press.” The size of the tool limits her to a width of about six inches, so she said, “You’ll notice lately a lot of my prints are long and thin.”
What intrigues her so much about this process? “It’s just the opposite of drawing,” she noted. “This way you’re carving what you want to remain white and printing what’s left on the block.” She called her drawing style “very meticulous, very painstaking,” and said she got into printmaking because she thought it would open her up more. “But I now can be obsessive about it,” she chuckled.
These days, she’s constantly switching between drawing and printmaking, which can feel a bit crazy. But it’s her passion for both that makes her latest book so unique. It’s a hybrid of many mediums, a work the publisher, Littoral Books, described as “a rich and colorful collection of wise, witty, sometimes poignant, always intriguing portraits, in words and images, of animals that have captured her attention.”
Striking and lovely to hold, the book feels like a bit of discovered treasure. When Moore, the 2018 winner of Maine’s Literary Award for Short Nonfiction, first sent Littoral a PDF with a few pictures, she had no idea how wonderfully they would bring her vision together. “They just made this little gem. I’m so in awe of what they’ve done,” she said.
A great holiday gift for any lover of bears, birds, or bugs, more information about the book is now available, along with other works by Moore, at PenPets.com or right here in the Monadnock Region at The New Leaf Gallery at 11 Roxbury Street in Keene.
The gallery, a collaboration between Taryn Fisher and Matt Brown, showcases Moore’s work, as well as pieces from many other contemporary printmakers. The New Leaf Gallery website shared this: “In the making of prints opportunities arise for the work to ‘talk back’ and play formative roles in its own creation.”
Join the conversation by visiting this special space on Saturdays from 10 to 5 or visit TheNewLeafGallery.com for more information.