Goodbye, 2020: Heidi Gustafson

Heidi Gustafson is an artist, pigment worker and ore whisperer based in rainy, volcanic Cascade foothills of rural northern Washington. Her intuitive and highly collaborative ochre and iron research projects include work with award-winning scientists, anthropologists, linguists, translators, citizen foragers, artists and places around the planet.


Early Futures is Heidi's artistic research studio, which focuses on ochre, iron oxides, land pigments and subtle earth activism. Heidi’s Pacific Northwest cabin/studio houses the Ochre Archive, a collective of sacred ochres and pigments from contributors world-wide.


Heidi's Instagram page has been a window into a whole new world of colour study for me this year, and I'm delighted to have chatted with her about the year that was, and the amazing work she does:

Photo by Meghan McMackin

How has this year been for you?

A year of heart trials and more fully doing my work quietly. Despite cultural shifts and challenges and mass death in our country from the pandemic, I’m finding deeper ways to do the pigment and ochre work I’m called to do.



Did you learn anything new this year?

I’m always learning something new from the ochre and rocks and landscapes (and people) I form relationships with. Because my work is sort of all encompassing – I don’t often make a lot of time for extra hobbies as much as I could. I learned how to build better fires and swim in colder water more often. I learned a little better how to pay attention to the weather, but I’m not very good at this yet. I’m continuing to learn how to forage mushrooms for food and medicines. I’m trying to learn how to drink more water and stretch more consistently.


What was your routine like during the pandemic?

I’m not very routine oriented, as every day is often a response to what is requested or given to me to grapple with, or what the ochre invites! Generally there is some sleep, baths, food, talking, rocks, land places, dust, dreaming, burning incense, soul travel and cat or love snuggles.



What dish did you cook the most in 2020?

Bird legs and roots.


What's the biggest obstacle you've overcome this year?

My best friend and spiritual teacher, Steven Goodman’s death. It’s something I knew was coming in a soul sense, as we had a very deep and meaningful connection that’s hard to put into words. He is central to the foundation of my practice and who/how I work today, and learning how to relate to him, communicate, internalize his wisdom, grieve, and celebrate his soul after death has been incredibly challenging, and ultimately an ongoing, beautiful teaching.



What was one of the moments you were most proud of this year?

I was proud to teach my 1.5 year old niece how to turn rocks into paint, to see her love it, that was so cool.


Who really enriched your life this year in a big way?

My love, he is awesome.



The nicest thing you did for someone in 2020?

I got the chance to make a special pigments for a few indigenous individuals and ceremonies in N. America. Any chance I get to offer back land, to collaborate on making and sourcing pigment for true ancestral stewards of land, feels like an important, basic kindness for Earth.


The book that helped you the most in 2020?

The Buddhist Psychology of Awakening: An In-depth Guide to Abhidharma, by Steven D. Goodman.


The song you heard on loop this year?

Recently I’ve been listening to Cosmos Sheldrake’s Wake Up Calls bird song album.



Favorite film/TV show of 2020?

Corwin Fergus’s, For Bruce Baille: A Love Song. A tribute to the legendary avant-garde filmmaker Bruce Baille, whose film Quick Billy also inspired me this year.


What's a lesson that this lockdown has taught you?

My life was already very much like being in solitary retreat, in fact, the daily change has felt somewhat subtle.



What is one question that you found yourself asking over and over again this year?

What the *&%? is wrong with our president???


A recent epiphany you've had?

I’m working on a book on ochre, and just recently realized the structure of how I want it be laid out. The major epiphany came the next day, when I discovered this layout exactly mirrored the esoteric structure of an ancient Egyptian book on the underworld/earth (ca. 1500 BCE), which felt affirming.



What’s your number one bucket list item for 2021?

To be able to go back over the Canadian border near my house to visit important ochre places.


Note: Heidi is looking for local earth pigments from India to add to her archive. It is one of the places she know least about geologically and would love to learn more, especially with all the farming protests, she would love to learn more/see the soil and its magic. If any readers see colorful rocks or soil they want to share, please reach out to Heidi at heidi@earlyfutures.com. You can follow her work on Instagram.