I’m not one of those people who has a lot of luck with competitions. Almost a decade ago, I won a booze hamper in a raffle and I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Carrying it back to the car was a comedy of errors as it took two of us, but it was more than worth it. Back in the summer, I entered an art competition on a whim. It was one of those crazy, mad moments on a Saturday night where I thought “yeah, why not?”. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d win so it was a bit of surprise when I got an email to see that my entry had been chosen. The prize? My painting, Walking Into the Light was chosen to be turned into a charity greetings card. It’s probably the most well known pieces from my portfolio and is one of my favourites as it’s part of my personal journey. The painting depicts coming out of a dark season into the light.

The charity I have chosen to support is Aylesbury Women’s Aid. They support women who have suffered domestic abuse and their journey back to freedom. The charity’s work isn’t just with victims, they also advise the police and other agencies on how to help victims and what emergency help is available, they run refuges, counselling, and courses for survivors and other agencies. Education is very much part of their mission as well as offering help and advice. 

If I’ve learnt anything from this exercise, it would be that it’s always worth having a go at something even if you think it won’t go your way. Life is too short to miss out on opportunities and its never too late in life to have a go. So if you’re procrastinating on something, take the leap and have a go. You never know where it might lead. Be brave, courageous, and adventurous. Believe in yourself, you might find that someone else agrees with your vision and supports you. 

If you would like to support Women’s Aid, you can purchase one of my cards for £2. If you would like to make further donation to this wonderful organisation, that would also be appreciated. To purchase a card, please click here. For more details about the charity, click here.

What do you do with a blank canvas? It’s been a long time since I started a painting without sketching the idea first, but this canvas has been calling out for a landscape scene, so I thought I’d just go for it. When I looked at the panoramic shape of the canvas I could see a sun setting over a flourishing hillside. I’ve always liked the idea that woodland has many colours throughout the seasons of the year, so the colour scheme came naturally.

There’s a freedom to being able to paint without sticking to a previous sketch. It’s also a little daunting as you realise that you don’t know where you’re going with it! I must admit that this approach meant that the painting took longer than anticipated, but eventually I got the result I was looking for. The longest part was choosing the colour scheme for the sun; after a few attempts I could see that it needed to be darker than the rest of the painting to get that feeling of “the sun going down”.

This painting sold before I even managed to advertise it! Probably the fastest selling piece for painting so far…

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So how many times in the last week have you thought “how will I ever get this done?” or “just give me a break” or “why are you so hard on me?”. Social media platforms show everyone’s perfect life with their perfect friends and family. But let’s be fair about this, most of what we see on social media is an edit of what it really happening in someone’s life. I think what gets me the most is the amount of judgement against each other’s life choices. We all do it from time to time without being aware of it. However, some people, through lack of understanding, can be quite condemning of situations that are different from their own. Our paths in life are all different and rightly so, we are unique, not one of us is the same, so how could we all walk the same path? 

If I’m totally honest, I became tired of other people’s expectations of me. We live in a society that can push motherhood towards perfection and disallows women to flourish outside of that role. Every women’s experience of motherhood is different and like a lot of women, single motherhood was never part of my plan, but it’s a thousand times better than the situation I was in before. We’ve seen the backlash to this movement in popular books such as “Why Mummy Drinks” by Gill Sims and the rise of social media stars such as Kristina Kuzmic, who celebrate their humanity by stating that it’s ok to not be a perfect mother. 

If anything, I wanted this song to point out that it’s ok to live our lives in a way that works for us. Being hard on other people doesn’t make them aspire to live differently, more over that they feel condemned by it. People thrive when they are loved and respected, not put down and judged. Positive attitudes bring hope to a situation, and encourage people to keep going when times are tough. And let’s face it, being a parent is never-ending hard work, full of challenges and rewards. 

So this song is a shout out to all the women making life happen. Those who work, parent, mentor, cook, clean, create, nurture, manage, plan, care and hold it all together for others. Those who rise to the challenge and and keep going no matter what. You rock!

You can download the mp3 from iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp. Or listen on Spotify and Apple Music. Remember, every time you buy music from an independent artist, you’re contributing resources for them to make more music in the future.

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Parenthood and artistry...My hands smell of bleach and I’m wondering if I remembered to register an ISRC code with PPL.  My son waving a school form in his hand and I’ve just received an email from a radio station about airplay. This request then makes me have a slight panic as I realise that I haven’t prepared the EPK (electronic press kit) for the single. There’s laundry everywhere and I haven’t done my invoicing. This is the day to day reality of being an artist in 2019. I’m a mother, a singer-songwriter, a friend, a painter, a daughter, a writer, a sister and my manager all rolled into one. Everyday I spin plates to make things work at home and at work. 

There are lots of romantic notions about artists and how they live. As though we spend our days drinking coffee and pondering life’s realities whilst creating something beautiful in a loft apartment. For me, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes I do drink a lot of coffee and I do spend a lot of thinking, but my life is surrounded my other elements as well. I’m a single mother of two children, I live in a terraced house in a market town, I have a job as well as running a business. I’ve learnt to be creative in small pockets of time, whilst cooking the dinner or after I’ve put the kids to bed, while there’s an hour of quiet or while I’m sat on a train to town. In fact, large spaces of time seem intimidating now; they have no structure, no deadline to spur me on. That one hour slot of time makes me seize the day and be decisive in my work and thinking. Before I had children I could waste hours on projects that didn’t really go anywhere. Juggling family life and work has made me more focused on what I want. 

From the outside, my day must look haphazard and chaotic. Sometimes as I’m being creative, other ideas spring to mind and I have to shelve them so that I can get on with my day. I used to find this frustrating but more recently I’ve found that it makes me hone in on what I really want and what will work. It makes me work savvy. The chaos adds to the creativity; it’s a constant stream of ideas. 

Sometimes you have to be forgiving of situations that arise that you have no control over. Sometimes projects get delayed, or they change. Sometimes things just don’t get done. Life will take over. The secret is not to be too hard yourself and ride the wave as it comes towards you. 

If anything I want to encourage you to create and work in whatever circumstance you find yourself in. There will never be a perfect time to create. An idea has to lift off the ground at some point. If you wait for that perfect moment, you will miss an opportunity. I used have have an office to work in; over time that office has become a bedroom for one of my children. This morning I answered my emails at a small workspace in my kitchen; it’s also where I paint. Yesterday I worked on a recording of a new song; no fancy office, I curled on the sofa with my laptop. It’s less than ideal, but if you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen. It takes resilience and tenacity to work through the challenges, but it is worth it in the end. It is possible to balance family life and work space. 

All dreams start from small beginnings. A humble seed may take years to grow, but it can grow into a mighty oak tree. So while I’m writing this blog, my hands smell of bleach from cleaning the sink, I’m uploading a song to a music distributer and the washing machine is on in the background. It’s all in a day’s work and I love it! Don’t let the excuses stop you from creating. 

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Earlier this month is was in an art shop and felt the prompted to buy a heart shaped canvas. I can’t say that it’s something I would normally go for but I bought it anyway. That same day, someone told me that they loved the bold colours in my previous work and that they would love to see more of that. Within 48 hours of that conversation, I painted the RAW HEART.

Amazingly this painted sold with less than hour. I’ve never sold a painting that quickly before, so it was a real blessing! What’s even more lovely, is that it was bought as a present for a birthday. I gave my heart away and someone gave it away as a gift – the love was passed on. Here’s a beautiful photo of RAW HEART and it’s new owner, Allie…

A few weeks ago I went to see the Amazing Grace film about the recording of the famous Aretha Franklin gospel album. Filmed and recorded in 1972, it is the only gospel recording that Aretha made after becoming a Grammy Award winner. Granted there are recordings of her leading worship as a teenager at her father’s Baptist church, but this is the only album she made with a Christian emphasis in her professional singing career. As a star she often talked her of faith in God and how it underpinned her life, let alone her career.

One of the issues that has distressed me over the years, is the constant criticism from some Christians who declare that she turned her back on God and the church in order to follow a musical path. My own experience is that the church often tries to keep musicians and artists within its walls should they try and do something that would lead them astray and destroy the reputation of the faith. Yet musicians and artists are visionaries who hear and see what God has placed within them. Aretha’s journey wasn’t so much about walking out of the church, but more about being sent by God into an industry that needed him. She was often described as shy and quiet, yet when she opened her mouth the passion and conviction poured out through her singing, a talent and drive that come from the strength of something much greater than her.  

This album celebrates Aretha’s personal testimony of her journey through a difficult life. A single mother by the time she was 13 years old, divorces, an abusive home life and the back drop of slavery and the civil rights movement all led her into a deeper relationship with God. However, while some Christians decry her fame and status as ungodly, there’s also the possibility that God put her into that position so that he could use her to help others. Aretha’s Amazing Grace album is the best selling gospel album of all time, beating her gospel rivals. Not bad for someone who made their name as a soul singer. 

What is also interesting about this album is the rawness of the occasion compared to other recordings of that era. It is reported that Aretha wanted to capture live worship as she knew it in her own church and present it to a wider audience who had no church background. The album allows us to hear Christians worshipping openly in a Baptist church in Los Angeles with a small congregation of both believers and non-believers. This album wasn’t about creating a studio atmosphere with great musical prowess, but about opening a window on praise and adoration of the Lord for those who had never experienced it. Aretha displays a dedication to take the church and God’s love out to the world rather than to wait for people broach the church door tentatively. As Christians, we are asked to take the message of God to our mission field, Aretha just does on a much grander scale using her status and platform to spread the gospel of Jesus. What is notable is that on the second night of the recording, the congregation doubled in size as word spread about the “free” Aretha concert. Even Mick Jagger makes an appearance in the crowd.

However, it isn’t just this album which makes Aretha’s legacy so unique. She was known for singing about women’s rights and independence, performing strong and powerful lyrics that women across the world identified with. Many of her songs became anthems for change and breakthrough; we’re all familiar with Respect and Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves and the powerful message that pervades these performances. 

While the some factions of the church may be mourning the loss of musicians who follow a different path, others are valuing the mission work that they are doing. The music business is one of the most uncharted industries when it comes to Christian missionaries. Aretha’s entry into this world meant the gospel was spread further. I’m not suggesting that all church musicians and artists should up and leave, more that the church should recognise their call and prophethood into an area that needs light and hope. Artists and musicians are called to carry the very heart of God into a world that needs help and this includes the entertainment industries. 

I know the church feels the need to protect creatives from sex, drugs and rock n roll, however in doing so, sometimes it stops people from fully fulfilling their calling. There needs to be an element of trust that God knows what he is doing. I’ve often been criticised for writing secular songs, however I do believe that this is what God has called me to do. One wonders if the church lets down artists, such as Aretha Franklin, by not supporting them more. Perhaps less stars would go off the rails if the church walked with them through their musical careers. I think what we can glean from Aretha’s life is that God used her powerfully and that her music touches the lives listeners around the world. Music is more than worship, some songs heal by the fact that we identify with the pain, others uplift when we feel down, or build community when we all sing together. Music has more than one role in life. 

Perhaps it is time for the church to let more creative people go and do what they do best and reap the harvest of music and art that comes from it. We’re not walking out of church, but walking into what God has called us to do.

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Where do the years go? Fifteen years ago on Saturday 5 June 2004, I released my first Album Conversations With The Heart. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but that album came into being by chance. I was studying for a music degree at the time and was writing bits and pieces in between that and music teaching. 

A friend of mine asked me to perform at New Eden Music Festival in Torquay in the summer of 2003 and after the performance I bumped into some old friends who were also recording their work. Those are lifetime friends, Peter and Debs Brazier. A quick conversation and a swap of contact details led to me sending Pete some home demos of my songs. Before I knew it was was standing in their dining room in Paignton, singing into a microphone. I faithfully trudged up and down from North London to Paignton with piano in the boot of my car for a weekend of recording many times over a period months until the project was finished. The whole project was made on the tiniest of budgets and a lot of tea from Debs! The artwork was created by Andrew Wainwright, a friend from music college.

The album launch took place on a very hot evening at St Margaret’s Church, Uxbridge and from memory we had about eighty people there. It wasn’t just me performing that night, Sheryl Anne Ashton also sang some solos and then joined me for some duets. It’s so great to be able to perform and make music with friends! 

And here I am these years on, still proudly an independent artist. I’ve had dalliances with record companies but I’ve never been made a sensible offer (just ridiculous ones!). Two albums, four EPs and lots of singles later. Still making music myself, still finding new ways to make it work. Here’s to the next fifteen years… 

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So this month I have created some artwork for my Guardian Angels (don’t fear if you support me on one of the other Angel tiers, something is winging it’s way to you!).

I’ve chosen the Bible verses Luke 12:28 and Psalm 141:2 and created images around those verses. I’ve always wanted to draw roses, but think I could until last night! So mission accomplished, and I may try out other flowers as well.

Enjoy!

For more info visit my Patreon (Helen’s Angels) site here.

The journey to becoming you is a lifetime process, and the same can be said about becoming a musician or artist. It’s an amble through trial and error, followed by readjustment and acceptance. If you can navigate through the pitfalls well and learn from them, then you can become more resilient and focused on what you are supposed to be doing. You have to learn not be to discouraged at each hurdle but to pick up the pieces and get going with your vision. And there’s the crux of being an artist… VISION. It gives us a reason to create, a message to deliver and a community to focus on. 

Very few creatives reach the pinnacle of their career with their first project; if they do reach the heady heights quickly, the harder they fall. If you gain access to a public platform, you need to be prepared to have a good message for your audience. You also need to have the character to bear the weight of the responsibility of speaking into situations that need wisdom, to give hope and not despair, to be positive when others are negative. Character develops under pressure, through perseverance, by overcoming obstacles and be willing to admit that we aren’t always right. If your character is weak, you will struggle to carry greatness and influence a world that is easily swayed. People are looking for a consistent, strong message that brings light into darkness; that type of maturity doesn’t develop overnight, it is born out of adversity and longevity. 

Often it’s in the seasons of “no” and “not yet” that we find out who we are. Like a seed planted under the soil, we grow in the dark seasons of our lives. The disappointments become fertiliser for our creative outlook. Even though the soil buries us, fresh green shoots spring up and bloom in the sunlight: something new is born. The tender shoots push the dirt away and reach out of the light. Those difficult seasons may seem to have no purpose but ultimately our personhood gets chiseled away by our experiences, and walking through fire helps refine and define our character. We are more than the sum of our experiences though, we are divinely created with a unique spirit, mind and purpose. We have a reason to be and a reason to do. 

Being an artist requires the gift of prophecy, to see what could be and call it into being. Most of us have been inspired by a song, book, or painting at some point in our lives, something that gives us vision and inspires us to be more, to push the boundaries. Each artist has spent time thinking about how to convey something new to their audience, using the opportunity to impart wisdom and infuse hope as part of their legacy to the world. It can be a lonely role, to move forward with a vision that others don’t yet see. It requires tenacity, perseverance and a willingness to sacrifice comforts to make the vision come to pass. You have to grow the vision and then give birth to it. 

So be encouraged wherever you are on your artistic journey, that the highs and lows are all part of the process of becoming who you are. You are becoming the artist that you want to be. A diversion doesn’t mean that you won’t reach your destination, it means you have something to learn along the way. The journey is often more important than the destination. Don’t be impressed with everything you see and hear, but work on being unique and find your own voice. No-one can be who you are. Rejoice in your uniqueness and work on your weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who support you but don’t pander you. Find your message and be the voice crying out in the wilderness. Speak change into a dying world and watch as your art makes a difference: a difference that only you can make. 

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It’s a new season and it’s time for new things. I’ve been thinking about doing things differently and new goals. Over the last decade, a lot of my projects have been produced by other people, which I have loved and it’s been a great experience! However, I haven’t had chance to have creative control over my music for a long time, so my next project will be produced by me!  After writing songs for the Centre For Buckinghamshire Studies last year, it gave me taste for producing my own music again and having that creative control which can sometimes be lost in corporate production. I made a decision that I wanted to be able to involve my fan base and supporters in the actual creation of the music. In the past I’ve had a call out for stories for songs from fans and then created music from their ideas; this time, the songs are based on my experiences and will feature the backing vocals of others. Part of being an artist, is being able to let go of what we’re creating and let outside influences join in shaping those ideas without losing the original vision. 

The first song I’m working on is called Womankind which looks at the aspects and personhood of being female. I have strong female characters in my present and past that have influenced my life, and a story of my own that has led to who am I, and that really is where this song begins. My own experience of being female has balanced between  being resolutely strong and empathetically vulnerable. Like all women, I’ve played a variety of roles simultaneously: daughter, sister, aunt, mother, friend, lover, ex-wife, colleague, confidant and the list goes on… The role of women is often down-played and lost in society and I want to highlight the essential nature of what women provide and bring to our culture. This album will very much feature our contribution. 

One of the greatest gifts that we receive from God is knowing who we are and having the space and opportunity to explore and find that out throughout life. I am very proud to be a woman and believe that we should increase the volume of voice in our communities and push forward for as many opportunities as possible. If we have learnt anything from our female predecessors, it’s that tenacity, strength, and perseverance eventually open doors to equality and that we have the right to obtain the same roles and levels as our male counterparts. 

Over to you… I need as many women of all ages and backgrounds as possible to record themselves saying a set of words that I will incorporate into the song. You don’t need to sing the words, just speak them. Most mobile phones have recording devices on them, and all you need to do is recording yourself saying the words and then email the mp3 to me. It only takes about 5 minutes to record and your name will be listed on the album cover.  If you would like to be involved, please email me and I will send you the words to say. Also, if you have words based on your own experience that you want to incorporate into the song, that would be most welcome…