Circle Story by Lenora Yerkes


“It’s all one story.” Irving Hashimoto, 2002

From the earliest conception of written language, we have drawn to tell stories about our lives and the world around us. These stories can be big and overarching, or pedagogical, or fun, even tiny, a slice of life. What I’ve noticed, trying again and again to play a part in the telling, is that the stories bunch up, overlapping and echoing a repetitive and authentic human tale. The details make a story, as much as major plot devices or driving actions, and most of us will spend our lifetimes in these details, too small to warrant much recognition, but collectively gigantic.

A million tissues. Thousands of elevator buttons punched. Too many foot falls to count. A lot of stories, all part of one story.

Influenced by the river-ways I grew up on, I often use water imagery to tell stories. Single drops of rain coming, or refusing to come, created the seasonal flooding and drought that I grew up with. Inspired by this, I rely on extemporaneous narrative drawing to gather the details of experience that develop into waves of narrative that I could not predict. Paying attention to these details becomes the hard part.

From Julia Cameron and Lynda Barry, artists have learned that devoted, regular manual expression of any kind helps us learn more about ourselves and the stories that define us, however common or ordinary they may seem. Widespread interest in mediation apps, yoga, and other “mindfulness” practices illustrate how many of us crave a way to tap into what makes our lives special in a world full to bursting with on-demand services of seemingly bottomless content. The very bottomlessness that makes us feel like being mindful, however, also robs us of the attention we need to dial into ourselves and our immediate communities. Many struggle to create meaning for themselves in a world full of meaning.

My work aims to collect many single marks, reporting detail after detail, until collectively those marks cascade into tales both minor and gigantic. In subverting the categories often used to describe narrative drawing–from ancient battle scenes etched or woven to modern comics–I challenge us to see the liminal connection between these categories and the one story we’re all telling.


Lenora made her first drawings in a Central California suburb and her second drawings on a weird old houseboat called the Jolly Roger, moored to a moldering pier on the Sacramento River. After looking all over the west coast for a way to make transcendent art, she gave up and decided instead that since regular humans make art, she would be a regular human and see what happened. She moved from California’s capital city to the nation’s Capital City in 2007 and found that enough art-making and story-telling, repeated, retold, retooled, created a different kind of transcendent art than she’d been able to imagine, dockside–one swamped with details. To keep noticing, Lenora practices daily drawings reflecting the daily experiences, trying to suss out the bigger story, waiting patiently to see what develops.