Jun 16, 2019

Closing Chapter at Alderworks

Thank you, Jeff and Dorothy, for your generosity and vision in creating Alderworks, for the multiple rides into Skagway, for the eggs and bear spray and friendly dogs. Thank you, Allison, for all the honest conversations, laughter, and steep hikes. Thank you, Samantha, for demonstrating focus on your work.
Our residency is over but not our travels. On Friday we rented a car and drove two hours into the Yukon Territories, through miles and miles of forest, stopping in Carcross and Whitehorse where everyone we met were artists. Saturday we loaded our bags onto a ferry for Haines, another town with great art, and today we're on to Juneau.
I'll be sorting through what the take-aways are from Alderworks for a long time. Be watching for the mountains in my paintings. I loved the daily rhythm of hiking and sketching that led to new paintings. It was wonderful being part of a working couple, seeing Ed so excited (and frustrated) with his writing. ( I felt frustrated, too, sometimes.) The first thing I want to do after I unpack is apply for the next residency.

Jun 11, 2019

My friend Kathy

We have limited access to the outside world here. In order to send or recieve emails or texts, we have to walk to a bench about 20 yards away by the Bea cabin, under glacial tipped peaks. Sitting on that bench, we get rumblings like distant glacial movements, far away in Oakland or across the globe. A friend breaks up with her boyfriend, another is reunited with a past love, another shatters her wrist.

Yesterday at 5:00, I got word that a dear friend had passed away a few minutes before. Kathy had a huge impact on my life over 40 years ago. She challenged me to live out my faith in hard and tangible ways when many of my friends treated Christianity like a country club. Kathy walked with me through the end of a very toxic relationship which put my life in a whole different direction. We didn't see each other very much for a few decades, but I visited her frequently in Sacramento the last 7 months as her health declined. On our last visit, she was confused and rambling, but as I said goodbye and left the room, she called out after me with great clarity and a radiant smile, "I AM going to Brazil next week!"

I hope you're loving Brazil right now, Kathy.

Jun 10, 2019

New Challenge

It’s a whole new challenge to pick up a pencil or brush after a show. With a focus on an event as a finish line, what is there to do after it’s been crossed but there’s still a week left to go here? Another walk up the logging road to the blue bridge. More sketches. More studies, paintings with an eye to larger canvases when I get home.

Haiku by Ed:

Low clouds snagged by pines.
Glacier ice, crystal mountain. 
I wish to grow young. 

Jun 8, 2019


Today is my 61st birthday. That threw the day into sharp focus, like, this is who I am. I installed paintings on slender straight trees and in the studio, and then about a dozen people from Skagway joined us and the Alderworks community. The paintings spurred lots of stories and tall tales. Ed shared poetry he’s written recently. Various dogs drifted through. It was very sweet. A good birthday I’ll remember for a long time.

Here's a recent poem Ed wrote about the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise:

Breathing Deep

First my brother texts me 
that Paradise is in flames,
our birth town
in the Sierra foothills
where Opa hammered
a home together
in a ponderosa grove
that reminded him of Germany,
where Oma planted                                                     
in the iron-dense earth.

Then I see on CNN
the hurricane of embers
swirling in a whiplash dance;
every tree a blazing exclamation point
above puddles of boiling asphalt.

On NPR I hear
of the fire’s bared teeth
swallowing horses whole,
then deer, bears, ambulances, hospitals, homes
and the people who flee them
on melting shoes.

On NBC I hear about
the clamor of popping trees
like a chaos of cannon fire,
sky blacker than the
ninth plague on Egypt.

On Facebook I read of
how my cousins drive through flames
to rescue their aging mother;
how they get lost in the smoke,
then huddle for hours
singing hymns
in a parking lot island in hell.

In the Times I read
of my old friend Kevin
whose useless car won’t start,
so he resigns to die
in an easy chair
“with a New Yorker magazine,
his cockatoo,
two tree frogs and a lizard,”
only to emerge, hours later,
to a silent world of ash.

On FoxNews I learn
how chimneys serve
as grave markers,
how chips of teeth and scraps of bone
become precious finds
to families of the missing.

Two-hundred-miles south,
not heeding the warnings
of NPR, NBC, Facebook, and Fox News,
I step outside into the haze,
gaze deep into the honey colored sky
and fill my lungs with Paradise.

Jun 6, 2019

Art Show, June 8, at Alderworks (Skagway, Alaska)

On Saturday, June 8, we will host an art show and reading here at Alderworks, from 11:00 to 1:00. If you are in the area of Skagway, please stop by. (Don’t use the Beware of Dog sign as a landmark—it’ll be replaced by a sign for the event. But the dogs will be here to greet you and guide your truck in.) Ed will be sharing poems, and I would love your input on the art. If you can’t make it, we’ll host an event in the Bay Area on July 20, 2019, at our home.

Here's a poem by Ed:


Sitting in my kitchen with windows shut
I’m swearing in C sharp
not wishing anyone
to hear me howl.

A warm typhoon has blown in
 from the Gulf of Grief,
wrinkled sky smelling of
thunderclouds and surf.

I’ve always loved the shape of women.
Yours especially.
Your lovely ribs.
Your lotus skin.

 I remember you in the Greyhound depot
with your frayed bedroll and blue canary,
your pharmaceutical bag full of
someone else’s prescriptions.

 Our knees touched
 and somewhere in the Pacific
an island sank.

 I want you still
but you are thinking of one thing only:
crossing me off your list.

Just now, I thought you were smiling
but you were simply drifting 

Please--before you go--
sit with me just long enough
to watch the trees grow old.

Jun 5, 2019

Alaska Update: Check out photos by Allison Nichols

Two days ago I painted a portrait of Allison Nichols, the other artist in residence here.She creates dreamlike abstracted photos and is compiling some of her photos into a secular prayer book. Check out her work here.

Yesterday we caught a ride with Jeff into Skagway. A huge cruise ship loomed at the end of Broadway, and the tiny town was flooded with shuffling tourists, us included. Ed filled out a request at the museum to find out about his great-grandfather's trip up the Chilkoot Trail in '98. I stocked up on carrots and canned tomatoes--the food from the weekly barge hadn't been shelved yet--and buried myself in a book at the library until Jeff was done taking garbage to the dump--no weekly pick-up here. I was so glad to get back to our cabin and finish a painting that had been weighing on me. I'm addicted to the unlimited painting time here.

Jun 2, 2019

More New Work from Alaska

We are now halfway through our residency. I was able to join the North Words Writers’ Symposium for their Friday night barbeque here at Alderworks. Mostly from Alaska and the Yukon, the participants were very warm and friendly with a wacky humor; at moments of high enthusiasm, they would erupt into hoots and howls. Many of them came to the cabin to see what I had been painting. After two weeks of solitude, I was back in gallery-mode, talking about my art and doing my elevator speech.

On Saturday I joined the group on a historic train that dropped us off at the Laughlin Glacier trailhead. We hiked 8 miles through mossy forest and into a moonscape left by the rapidly receding Laughlin Glacier, scrambling over ice studded with rocks and gravel. Our return train was delayed by a stalled engine on the tracks, so we waited 40 minutes in the rain on a remote mountain hillside. I jumped with excitement when I saw the single headlight appear around the curve.

This morning Ed and I visited the Skagway Presbyterian Church. I felt like we really got the pulse of the congregation as we heard the prayer requests during the service and talked about wild rhubard and wild moose as we ate biscuits and gravy in the fellowship hall.

Now it’s back to work. I sold one painting this morning (my first to go to the Yukon!), and I am putting most of the rest away in the closet so I can start fresh. I have two weeks left to go.

May 29, 2019

Day 11 in Alaska

We are now in our 11th day of a 27 day residency, and we have definitely settled into a routine. We hike up a steep road to a blue bridge that overlooks the West Creek Glacier every morning, accompanied by three or four Alderworks dogs and a can of bear spray. We return to the cabin and work most of the day and then hike to the flats of the Taiya River after dinner. It’s very simple, and one day merges into the next.

Mixing it up some is the North Words Writers Symposium in Skagway this week. Ed is participating. Nancy Lord of “Early Warming” joined us for breakfast this morning, and Susan Orlean of “The Orchid Thief” will be speaking later.

Also adding a new twist to the mix, Allison Nichols, a photographer from New York, arrived at the residency yesterday. She is a delightful hiking companion and an insightful artist, with a gifted swing for throwing sticks to the dogs in the river.

May 28, 2019

New Work

Here's one of Ed's recent poems:

Declaration of Ambrosius de Tortilla
(Discovered in a 16th Century tomb in southern Spain and translated by Ed Aust)

I, Ambrosius de Tortilla, the bonafide Conquistador of Quesadilla,
do hereby declare on my honor
that the sunburnt sleepers of park benches and stairwells
throughout this sacrosanct kingdom
are from this day exonerated of all debts to society,
forgiven of trespasses and pardoned of imperfections
as surely as my name is noble, my motives sincere,
and my reputation without blemish,
and let it hereby be established
throughout this wide and disordered empire of the forgotten,
downtrodden, misperceived and ill-humored,
that as certain as the black beetle treads unnoticed over
the sleeping chinchilla,
so shall you be recognized as beautiful and glorious in your way,
and let the malignantly unmotivated, discouraged, and jacks of no trades,
the uninsulated nomads of uncertain origins,
be hereby known as legal inheritors of all things remarkable and numinous.
May your names be recorded in the Book of the Distinguished,
your stories recited around campfires,
and your ballads sung by street-corner buskers
throughout this modest realm.

--Ambrosius de Tortilla, 1575

May 27, 2019

Midnight Sun

Greetings from the land of the midnight sun.
It's odd to go to bed in twilight and to wake up at 3:00 am to the first light of dawn...

May 26, 2019

New Work

One of Ed's recent poems:

After Graduating from College with a Degree in Creative Arts

I was angry at a woman in San Jose
and sick of apartment cockroaches
so I tossed my stuff into the back of a pickup
and left town,
moved in with my parents
and searched for work.

Sometimes you take
what you can get,
like a job at a roller disco
cruising the floor on polyurethane wheels
in a ridiculous orange vest and white slacks,
blowing a whistle at speeding teens
while skating backward
beneath the mirror ball
in a warehouse of clamor.

Some nights I succumbed
to the beat and crowd current,
the sheer illusion of weightlessness,
a dancing fool
drifting like dandelion down
on the concussive wind
of the Commodores
thinking, "I'm too old for this."

Slippery floor, tangled bodies,
ice on swollen wrists.
Fall and rise. Float and crash.
Feet gasping for breath.

After closing, locking up,                                 
crowds and staff gone home,
I would leave that darkened parking lot
and hit the empty highway,
sky black as loneliness
and just as absolute.     

May 25, 2019

At the Cabin

It’s Saturday. We arrived at Alderworks a week ago. We’re settling into a routine. After breakfast we hike up a steep road to a blue bridge that overlooks a magnificent glacier. It’s so beautiful that it hurts. Every hike is different, different light, different patterns of snow on the peaks. There’s an untouched forest beyond the bridge that looks like it’s straight from a Grimm’s fairy tale, complete with the shadowy possibility of some encounter with bears or wolves.

Then we return to the cabin and write and paint. Ed refines his poetry. I draw a lot, working on ideas for here and also when I return to Oakland and have larger canvases. I have a table in the cabin by a window where I paint for 4 or 6 hours.

I also cook big meals of soup and pasta and quiches with eggs from the chickens here. In the evening we walk down to the flats at the convergence of a couple of rivers, a popular staging area for cruise excursions. There are four dogs here who are always eager to escort us. Once they saw a van full of tourists from a cruise ship and blocked it, barking, on the one lane bridge. I felt very Alaskan. We are not in a van from a cruise ship. We are locals with dogs and bear spray. We have been here one week, and we’ll be here three more.

Yosemite’s Gates

Yosemite’s gates are sealed for good,
all visitors barred.
East of the park at Tioga Pass,
six cherubs block the entrance,
each with a flaming longsword
carved of glacier quartz.
At Hetch Hetchy on the western side,
seventy bison clog the road,
shaggy heads low and silent,
daring to be challenged.
At Big Oak Flat a granite boulder,
round as the moon over Half Dome,
rolled down a cliff on Christmas Eve
and plugs the asphalt passage.
Don’t even bother with the Arch Rock entrance
on El Portal Road at Foresta
where a great woolly mammoth
rubs its sweeping tusks
against the granite blocks,
having emerged, they say,
from a Badger Pass blizzard.
South Entrance appears deceptively open
though witnesses tell of the presence of ghosts
in the shape of leaping bighorns.
As for the thousands stuck inside,
news is sparse; electricity is out,
the trails are full of bears.
This much we know: a woman gave birth
to a child who floats when given the breast
and who laughs at the sight of the moon.

May 24, 2019

Meet Dorothy and Jeff, Visionaries of Alderworks

This is Dorothy and Jeff, visionaries and hosts of Alderworks. To read their story, go to alderworksalaska.com. Jeff moved to the area and started a newspaper when he was 21, and he continues to spearhead the North Words Writers’ Symposium which will be gathering in Skagway next week. Dorothy is a Skagway native, third generation, and is the queen of the gardens and animals here. We are so grateful for their warmth and hospitality and Alaskan grit, and when Ed and I need to talk with someone besides each other, Dorothy and Jeff always have good stories to tell.

The main purpose of a residency is to work without distraction. The main challenge of a residency is working without distractions. I have no excuse to not paint. There are no errands to run, no bills to pay, no meetings to attend, no dinners to host. To text or email here, I have to walk to a bench across the grounds where everyone can see that Carol is on her phone again, so I don’t do that a whole lot. We can’t access movies or TV programs or NPR. All we can do is paint and write and hike and read, which is fine when I’m feeling confident. It’s fine when I’m in Oakland where people might say, “You’re Carol Aust! I love your work.” But here, people don’t know me or Oakland, and my reputation is only as good as what I paint here, and at the moment I don’t like my paintings very much. I would much rather watch a movie or play the piano or cook dinner for 20 or even run to Target, but those aren’t options here.

When we interviewed for this residency, we suggested coming for two weeks. Jeff was reluctant. “It takes people a couple of weeks just to settle in,” he explained. I’ve made a calendar for myself and counted the panels I brought. It works out to 8 ½ panels a week for four weeks. I have lots of time to make lots of bad art, and maybe some gems will happen, too.

May 23, 2019

Through the Gates at Alderworks

When you go through the gates at Alderworks, you enter Jim and Dorothy’s vision of a utopia in process. Their barn-like home is the first building, set apart by a yard decorated with wood sculptures and metal barrel hoops and rusting bits of vintage machinery among the plants. A horse pasture with two horses plus pens for pigs, geese, ducks, and chickens separate their area from the 3 residency cabins, art studio, and various out buildings. A pile of lumber, palettes of river rock, and a back hoe for the new studio that’s under construction let you know that this dream is in process, as well as by the gardens of sapling trees and tiny plants. There’s a beautiful vegetable garden with raised beds and a greenhouse, all maintained by a young man named Justin. Everything is surrounded and embraced by a forest of spruce and alder with tall snowy peaks beyond.

Our cabin is the largest of the residency cabins. Log walls, wood stove, claw foot tub, big iron bed, it’s cozy and comfortable. It has two rooms, so Ed has claimed a small table in the bedroom where he can write in silence. His goal is to select and refine a collection of his poems and short prose writings for a book. Here’s one:

Poem Found Scrawled on the Simple Man’s Bathroom Wall

On certain nights in winter
when the moon is new,
I remove my clothes,
leap out my upstairs window
and fly above the rooftops,
studying the constellations
for signs of things to come.
Against the silence of the elms
I feel the world’s radio waves
pass through my chest,
tickling my lungs with their
lovely static.

I am a simple man, yet
over and over I peruse my life
and find myself wanting.

Above satellite dishes and
abandoned drive-ins
I swim through ozone
dreaming of better days.

I am a simple man.
I enjoy simple pleasures:
a cool baseball nested in my palm,
an old cat brushing my ankle,
the minty taste of stars
dissolving on my tongue.

I forgive everyone for everything
from my safe, high distance.

I like to lose myself
in the indomitable violet sky,
an ascending balloon swallowed
by the absence of light.

I paint in the front room, moving between a window and the kitchen table, depending on the light. More about my work later.

May 22, 2019

Getting to Alderworks

The Alderworks Residency at which we're staying is 9 miles north of Skagway, Alaska, 3 miles from the site of the former gold rush town of Dyea. Getting here is complicated, but it is also part of the magic of this place.
We flew out from Oakland on Friday morning, changed planes in Seattle, and landed in Juneau in the afternoon. At 5:00 am the next morning we set out for an Alaskan ferry to Skagway. We sailed 7 hours past magnificent peaks and glaciers and fjords. I had planned to start my creative processes on board, sketching and photographing for future paintings, but after pacing the deck for a while, I stretched out on a bench and slept. Maybe that was more important than drawings.
We docked next to two towering cruise ships and were greeted warmly by Annie, the daughter of our hosts, Jeff and Dorothy Brady. We wedged our suitcases into a large SUV with a canoe lashed to the roof, dodged tourists as Annie gave us a driving tour of the six blocks of town, stocked up at the local market and natural food stores, and headed north to Alderworks. We could see bald eagles as we skirted the Taiya Inlet and went over a couple one lane bridges. As we drove through the gate and the electric bear fence, we were greeted by four large friendly dogs. And here was our cabin, familiar from photos online but much larger than we expected. We felt instantly at home.

May 21, 2019

Packing for a Residency

How do you pack for a four week residency? Fortunately Ed was going too, so I could fill two checked bags, but I packed and repacked our bags, weighing them several times so they wouldn’t exceed the 50 pound limit. Other artists told me they took unstretched canvas or paper, but I packed 35 wood panels, mostly unsupported pieces of door skin. Most of my paint I brought in recycled plastic film cannisters plus sketchbooks and pencils and conte sticks. When I packed all of it I wondered if I would be able to use it all, but it was so exciting to unpack and to realize all I have to do here is paint. What a luxury! I remember when I was 21 and traveled around Southeast Alaska with a duffle bag of day camp supplies.

May 20, 2019

Alderworks Residency, Skagway, Alaska

My husband, Ed, and I are spending four weeks at the Alderworks Artist and Writer Residency nine miles north of Skagway, Alaska, from May 18 to June 14. This is a dream we’ve had for so many years, something we fantasized about when we had sleepless nights with new babies or sat in traffic on the way home from soul-sucking jobs. And here we are!
I first came to Southeast Alaska when I was a junior in college. I spent a summer leading day camps in small homesteading communities and logging camps, and I was swept away by the people and the natural beauty. The boats and mountains and wildlife that I saw here at 21 have crept into my paintings over the decades. I brought Ed 10 years after that first trip, and he interviewed at a small college as we flirted with the idea of moving up here. 3 years ago we brought our daughter, also a junior in college. I’ve never been able to forget the blue and white peaks rising out of the water or the spruce and hemlock forests.
So it was natural to search for a residency here and then apply and then tell Jeff Brady and his daughter, Annie, our Alaska stories when we interviewed for the May slot. We also spoke with them about our hopes for painting for me and writing for Ed at Alderworks.  We are very grateful to Jeff and his wife, Dorothy, for inviting us to come here to work for four weeks.
Although there is very limited internet here at Alderworks, I will try to keep a blog of our residency. I am learning so much already about what to pack for 4 weeks of painting and how to structure my days. I’m so grateful to the other artists who have shared with me their residency experiences.
So the first photo I have to share is of Ed and me at 6:30 am at the airport with five bags, two of which were over 45 pounds. The wood panels, paint, sketchbooks and Ed’s laptop left little room for clothes! 

Oct 21, 2017

from the 6th arondissemant

Hello from Paris! I'm here with my husband and daughter, thanks to the generosity of our friends Robert and Kay who are letting us stay in their flat in the 6th arrondissement. We landed 3 days ago and have been trying our hardest to not look like dumb Americans but have been making every mistake possible. No matter. It's so beautiful here, and there's so much amazing art. Yesterday we went to the FIAC international art fair and today the Musee de Orsay, quite a dramatic contrast between the two, but still creators longing to communicate and survive. I step into a room of conceptual art or impressionistic paintings, and I sigh deeply, feeling a kinship. It doesn't matter if I jumble my French or get my Euros confused. I am here to get inspired and refilled, and I'm already so full of new ideas.

Oct 17, 2017

Hello Again

It's been a year and a half since I've posted here, but now seems like a good time to start again. Last week I had one of those Cinderella moments--a solo show opening at the SHOH Gallery in Berkeley. It was so amazing to see my new work well-hung and lit. Thank you Julie! And friends from all corners of my life came out to celebrate, and Gael played amazing cello.

Then this past weekend was Hunters Point again. The parking lot was replaced by huge earth moving vehicles, but people came anyway. I sat to one side of my basement space and watched people shuffle past, and sometimes someone would stop, pause, grab a friend's hand, and look at the work again. Thank you, Will and Liz, for sharing your hearts.

Now my bags are packed and by the door. Tonight I fly to Paris with my husband and daughter with London 9 days later. Frankly, I feel so depleted from the full week and the news of the California fires. This trip feels very timely. I'm praying for God's glasses, seeing this tourist mecca in new ways and looking for fresh inspiration.

Apr 27, 2016

open studios

It's open studio season. Last weekend I showed my work at Hunters Point. Always intense, hauling 60 paintings over in a borrowed van (thanks Elmer and Annette), hanging down art down in the basement (thanks Ed), and meeting and greeting for two days. It's a rare chance to get direct input on my work. My favorite response this time was the woman who said, "Your paintings are of a world where hope exists." And the sweet couple who bought a painting for their wedding next week.

Sunday night, I enlisted another borrowed van and crew (thanks Mark, Brandon and Noah) and hauled 53 paintings over the Bay Bridge as it got dark. That sweet relief of the familiar cranes of the Port of Oakland welcoming me home.

Day after tomorrow it's a repeat performance, this time at the Hotel del Sol on Webster St. in SF. The stART up art fair will be Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, noon to 7:00. If you missed one, you can do the other. This one is new for me: 50 artists in a vintage 1960's motel. I would love to see you there.

Apr 12, 2016

Reading in a Night Wood

Reading in a Night Wood
It's open studio season. I am transporting carloads of paintings to Hunters Point for the April 23-24 show. A week later I'll be at the stARTup Art Fair at the Hotel Del Sol, also in San Fransisco. But all  I really want to do in curl up with a good book.

Apr 4, 2016



I'm often asked to donate to charitable auctions. An organization that placed me in a teaching job in China years ago asked if I would give something to their fundraiser, so I took over this painting. A woman I know named Shirley bid on it and got it, and I delivered it to her one Sunday morning at church. She was on her way to choir, and I had to go teach a class, but when she said, "I need to tell you why I had to have this painting," I stopped in my tracks. I knew she had something to teach me about the painting that would change and deepen it for both of us. She unwrapped the painting and started to cry. "My mother died when I was eight years old. We weren't a demonstrative family, very Chinese. But someday we'll have a reunion like this..."

Mar 31, 2016

Circle of Friends

Circle of Friends

We just returned from a trip to see old friends. What can I say? I miss them and so deeply appreciate them.

Mar 28, 2016



A friend just stayed with us on her way home from 3 months working in Thailand. She graduates from college in June. She was carrying a lot of stuff--intense overseas experiences, unresolved relationships, uncertainty about what to do after graduation. This painting is my prayer for her.

Mar 26, 2016

Mar 4, 2016

Three of Us, Man in Sky, Brave New World

It's spring here in California, which means it's time to ship work to the Left  Bank Gallery in Cape Cod. I drag up salvaged computer boxes from the basement and wrap 10 paintings in old sheets, wedged in place with recycled styrofoam. The guys at my house help me load them in the car, and I drive them  up in the hills to Doug's house, where he helps me ship them at commercial rate. And then they are flung out into the unknown world of planes and trucks, my children leaving home. Thank you to Audrey for giving them an audience so far away. And thank you to Doug for your part in the journey.

Feb 26, 2016

Every Day

Every Day

The artist's life--facing a blank canvas and trying to forget the mortgage, the kid's tuition, the gallery deadline, the dirty dishes and sick cat. My studio is a place to forget. It's also a place to remember what's really important. And somehow it all works out.

Feb 23, 2016

Three of Us

Three of Us

A prayer for our kids, that they be safe and know they're loved, even when they're far away.

Feb 9, 2016

Woman on Rocks with Suitcase, Again

Woman on Rocks with Suitcase

I am so grateful for friends who welcome me with my baggage, who listen when I feel stuck, who get me laughing when I don't see any options.

Feb 6, 2016

Five Balls

Five Balls

"That hunger, that desire for success is nothing more than a fear of failure....And the odd thing is that when you are actually succeeding, it tends to be quiet and comes quit unannounced and without a lot of fanfare. You will, in fact, be the only person who ever really grasps or recognizes the internal successes. The work of the work is visible only to yourself."
--Teresita Fernandez