Do you start something and never finish it? Do create something beautiful and then never release it to the world? Do you have notebooks full of endless ideas, but they never come to life?

No one wants to talk about the discipline. It’s a word that has had a negative public image; it’s not on trend, it invokes ideas of mundane and laborious tasks. However, it is essential for artistry, and I do believe that it also goes hand in hand with confidence. When we discipline ourselves to do something, we are committing to the act, the project, the creation but also to our own personal growth.

There are different areas of artistry that need discipline (and many more besides this list):

  • Practise and learning
  • Work pattern
  • Public image
  • Releasing and publishing work
  • Discipline our skills and learning

Netflix, social media, housework all these things seem suddenly more important than practising our instrument or learning a new skill. Anything to distract us from what we’re supposed to be doing. Sometimes we get caught up in running a business and forget to hone the expertise that makes the money. The development of an artist is dependent on the frisson of the new; boredom can so easily set in and we lose our focus. Equally we need to discipline ourselves not to continually chase excitement but also finish off what we have started. Satisfaction comes from seeing a project through to completion and knowing that we did our best. With each project, there is a danger that we can reach a point where it seems ridiculous or banal; it’s not turning out how we expected and it seems futile. This where the discipline of pushing through the difficult stages and remembering our original vision and can help us produce the final product.

Discipline our commitment

Most problems come from having too many ideas and not enough time. We shoot off in different directions without finishing what we’re doing. It’s in the continual plugging away at a project, where we see the fruit of our labours; the commitment to see the project through to completion. I list all my ideas and then think about them for a while before actioning them. Usually 50% of the ideas I’ve jotted down, turn out to be notions that seem to be brilliant at 1am but in the cold light of the morning aren’t actually very good. Time and space help to whittle down the ideas into something viable and workable, and in the long run I’m doing myself a favour by not over-committing to projects I can’t fulfil or starting tasks that are ridiculous!

Discipline our confidence

Our issues with discipline often start with a lack of self-belief, we sell ourselves short even before we start the task. The eternal problem of “will this piece of work be well received?” knocks our confidence and that with a combination of a poor audience reception or lack of interaction put us off achieving our goals. I have found that if I put aside the questions and concerns in my mind before I start working, then I can create on the basis that it is either something that makes me happy or that my message is something that needs to be said.

For some, the lack of confidence appears when it is time to release a project. The fear of lack of support and failure looms, and the project sits on a shelf never to be used. There are also occasions when we create something but can’t figure out how to market it. The strategy to create a buzz evades us and the project doesn’t reach its potential. This is where we need to put our feelings to one side and take the plunge. Build an audience, learn how to market and then go for it. We need to plan further than completing the work; a point of publication is equally as important as the germination of the original idea. I have a small group of cheerleaders and who encourage me to keep going to release my work. They give vital feedback and share ideas that keep me on track. It is worth building an inner circle who can speak the truth when you most need it.

Is discipline essential for artistry?

Yes, if we want to be the best version of our creative selves and to produce the best work that we can. It’s not that discipline is onerous but rather that it is habit forming in a positive way. Our greatest achievements come from continually plugging away and seeing the project through to fulfilment. All the creative masters had to learn to dedicate themselves to their craft and its development; they have a wealth of work to prove this.

We often assume that our creativity is all about us, however there are people around the world who need what you have to say, paint, sing, play. It may be as small as cheering up their day, or as great as being a life changing experience. The actor, Bill Murray, once stated that a painting stopped him from committing suicide. We never know what some will take from our art, but we do need to hold it lightly and allow it to be receive by those who need it.

So if there is an area in your work that is lacking, it may need some direction and drive to bring forth the gold you are waiting for. Discipline may seem daunting but it leads to a greater depth and understanding of why we are creating.

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One of the questions that I most commonly get asked is “when will I be a proper musician/artist/writer?”. In the artistic arena there is no defining moment when this happens. Unlike a lot of other professions, artistry isn’t just a job, it’s tied in with our identity. It’s part of who we are as well as what we do. Our reasons to create go beyond salary and career prospects; we feel compelled to create, make and perform: to shine a light on the issues that we are passionate about. This desire bubbles up inside of us until we satisfy our need to create.  The artistic spark within connects with the divine in order to channel the power of spiritual creativity.  

Sometimes you have to see yourself as an artist so that you believe that you are one. If we believe that we are made in the image of God, and he is the master artist, then we must reflect the artistry back to him. David had to see himself as king long before he ever was king, and Abraham had to believe that he was the Father of Nations long before he was a father.  Sometimes we have a sense of greatness within, but we don’t how or when that will be achieved in our lives. This calls us to trust that our sense of who we are will be filled during our life time. 

We must set aside other people’s views on who we are and what we do. To not be defined by the atmosphere and clamour around us. Someone else’s opinion can leave an imprint of a false belief on our identity, which can become a barrier to our artistic output. How many times have we believed that we’re not good enough to create? When imposter syndrome sets in, it steals our vision and denies our personhood. We can fall into the trap of needing to be ratified, commended and accepted by the creative community, rather than being able to do those things for ourselves. The best artists are those who have a sense of self coupled with independence; they are more likely to take risks and try new ideas whilst maintaining their integrity. 

Creative insecurity is driven by fear, in particular fear of opinion and failure. Mistakes and failures although painful can lead to being a better artist, they develop our character and help build a stronger resolve in us through wisdom and experience. Public and peer critique can also have benefits if we learn to filter out what isn’t necessary, and act on what is good.  

We can be under the illusion that money determines whether we are an artist or not. Yet some of the of greatest musicians died in poverty, case in point Handel who died penniless and largely unknown for his work. The Messiah was only a success after his death, and it written during a time when his friends supported him financially. Money is good for helping us create and access resources, but it can pollute our work if we are driven by financial gain. 

Creativity is a calling. There is a responsibility in everything we do that we represent and share the truth in an honourable way. Lots of people can create but those who accept the calling to “disturb the peace” and highlight different issues to the world through art have an undeniable vocation and position in society. The world needs those artists who undertake a journey of discovery and exploration for the sake of educating and helping others. They are the risk-takers, the pioneers, and mothers and fathers of new movements.  

It doesn’t matter whether you started being creative from the time you were small or if you find your stride during retirement. The artist DNA is part of you from the beginning; it comes to life at the right time to offer you healing, fulfilment and also bring hope to others. The truth is, you’re an artist from the moment you are born, from the moment you create, from the moment that idea germinates in your mind. You’re an artist from the moment you take that first breath… 

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Many moons ago I started writing a series of blogs about being a resilient artist but the time never seemed right to publish them. I even wrote out an idea for a business called Resilient Creative but life took over and the idea stayed in a notebook. Then the pandemic hit, the world turned upside down and changed the arts arena as we knew it. One evening I was chatting to my long time colleague and friend Rachael Forsyth about the state of the arts and we pondered on how we might recover as an industry. She mentioned some thoughts she was writing about, I mentioned the previous blogs and voilà, we had a book idea. 

If you’re struggling to get back into the rhythm of creating, then How To Be A Resilient Artist is for you. You may be looking to boost your creativity in some way, to find a new way of working or regain some areas of your art that have fallen apart. You’re not alone, many people go through a “wilderness” period with their creativity. It’s all part of the artistic journey. Life is full of difficult twists and turns; recession, divorce, death, illness, failed businesses and of course, the unforeseen pandemic. All of these situations are tough for anyone working in business, however the unpredictable nature of the creative industries can make this a lot tougher. For others it could be that boredom and lack of direction has brought you to a halt and you’re now not sure how to kick start your enjoyment of playing your instrument or picking up your paintbrushes. These “wilderness” periods can be confusing, disorientating and draining. They also give us the opportunity to assess where we’re going and what we want out of life and ultimately, our music. The trick is not to let the “wilderness” journey overwhelm you but redirect you. 

This book is designed to give you some hope that your setback is only a season and not a life sentence! Better times will come and eventually you will feel stronger from what you have learnt through this experience. There are plenty of ideas to get the creative juices going, and stories of how we overcame obstacles and found a new way to make things work. It’s always possible to recover from the pressure and regain a rhythm of working and performing. 

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, this book has insights and tips on how to reinvigorate your creativity and regain your focus. Whatever season you are in, you can make a fresh start and discover the creativity within you. 

It was early in 1994 when I was listening to an album in my room and received the strangest and yet beautiful experience. I was seventeen years old and had been navigating the rollercoaster of life and had got burned; I was venturing into the early beginnings of adulthood. As the music flowed over me, I began to feel something I’d never felt before. My ears homed in on the sound of the bass line: the rhythm, the frequency, the depth of the sub bass pulsating through me. But something else was happening, deeper and more ethereal than the usual listening experience. It was life changing healing on a profound, unexplainable level. There were no words spoken, just a spiritual, fulfilling moment emanating from the timbre of the music. 

Largely in our western society, we negate the idea that something non-medical could bring healing and our culture is bemused by the idea of the spiritual being able to heal us. Unless it’s a medicine or treatment we can see, it’s not considered to be genuine. The general feeling is that if the medics can’t help us then there is no solution to our problem. We’ve lost our awe, wonder and respect for the divine as it removed the power from our hands. Unless we have the knowledge of how this works, we don’t see it as viable. Modern life dictates that we must understand in order to receive, whereas God wants us to receive without the borders of understanding. However, in receiving from him our knowledge of his power and omnipotence increases. 

It was a unique experience for me, one that has not been replicated since in my life. The metred pulse of the bass line allowed me to receive the frequency of the Lord’s healing as it poured over me. This unusual healing touched me in a way that no counselling, therapy or medical cure could have done. The Lord’s power was able to reach places, emotions and scars that were deep within me, pulling out the root of the problem so that the divine answer to my situation had finality and no possibility of reoccurrence. I am not for a minute suggesting that we shouldn’t put our faith in medical science and psychological therapies, however, that we should start our healing process by asking the Lord which route he wanted to take.  

I find it interesting that the healing only took place between myself and the Lord; no one else was in the room. There is an intimacy to this moment that was just between me and him. I do know other people that have encountered similar healing moments during worship services. Yet this isn’t something that we see in church life on a regular basis. Why? In 1 Samuel 16:14-23, we’re told that David literally drove Saul’s sickness away with music. The very act of playing the lyre soothed Saul into peace. The spiritual frequency prophetically moving through the music made him complicit and disarmed in the presence of the Lord. Only the Lord could offer Saul healing in his circumstances and music was the channel he chose to administer this.  

I suspect that musicians who played on the piece of music I was listening to, had no idea how the Lord use their gifts in that recording. This begs the question for all musicians: how might God use you in your gifting? Have you asked God to use you in a greater way than you could ever imagine? And for those listening, are there preconceptions or limiting beliefs that you need to abandon in order to experience healing? To encounter the fullness that both the divine and music can offer, we must put aside our knowledge and natural understanding, so that we encounter the supernatural. Many years ago, I was improvising over an instrumental during worship, not singing words but using my voice as an instrument. Afterwards, I was approached by a woman who told me that she heard the Lord speak clearly through the sounds I was vocalising. Perhaps by not singing words, God had space to speak clearly through a different medium.  

We’re all waiting for healing of some kind, perhaps we shouldn’t be asking “when will you heal me Lord?” but “by what means do you want to heal me?”. The time has come for us to be more creative in our approach to worship, intimacy with the Lord and more open to the way the Lord wants to work in our lives. It’s time to raise our expectation in what can and will do for us. If we are open to what the Lord may have for us, we may gain more in our relationship with him. He is a creative God and loves to do more for us than we can imagine.  

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Here’s another instrumental I composed for Jazz Community Church for the reading Mark 15:21-29 for the online Good Friday service on 1 April 2021 (that’s me reading the passage too). Thanks to Gunter Hauser for mixing the track to Adam Sanders for creating a video.

Instrumental written & performed by Helen Sanderson-White. Copyright 2021 music by Helen Sanderson-White.

Recently I have been working with Jazz Community Church and have been asked to create instrumental music for their services. Here’s an instrumental that I composed to accompany a reading of Isaiah 55 (that’s me reading the passage too).

Music written & performed by Helen Sanderson-White. Copyright 2014 music by Helen Sanderson-White adapted for this reading in 2021.

I always knew that I would be a songwriter and artist right from a very young age. And I think, if I’m honest with myself, I always knew that I probably wouldn’t have an easy life because of that calling to artistry and creativity. Artists generally experience life at a deeper emotional level than others, and this informs and guides our work. Our hearts gets broken and we pour the emotions into our work. But is there any other purpose to this?

Every artist dreams of profoundly connecting with their audience, being able to move someone is a great privilege, and if it helps them on their healing journey, even better. I learnt that the greatest way to connect with my audience was through compassion, if I understand what someone has been going through, I am then able to express these emotions better in my work. 

A long time ago, I asked God why I was suffering so much in life. A series of devastating events had taken over my life, rejection, discrimination, abandonment, rape, domestic abuse, unemployment, debt, housing insecurity, divorce; it never seemed to stop. It was at this point, the Lord was clear with me that he didn’t make those things happen to me, but he allowed me to learn compassion and to soften my heart towards others in the process of dealing with these situations. Learning to be a better artist meant learning how others felt and walking the same path as them. If I wanted to connect with my audience on a deeper level, I had to experience that deeper level. I am not in anyway advocating going out and getting your heart broken to improve your work, but what I am saying is that there is more than one purpose in the pain. 

But God does not leave things there in the ashes. He treats our lives as works of art. Whatever has been broken or stolen from us, is eventually restored to us. If we can walk with others and give them hope, we take them further than just identifying with their pain. God creates a beautiful story out of a desperate situation. Whether we have received restitution or are still waiting for it, the Lord always completes our story. Everything happens for his glory, so that he can reveal his love and compassion for us through our lives. 

And this is why artists often go through more challenging times than others; we’re being prepared to create greater works that reach much further than we have gone before. We are to reflect the glory of God through our work. It is important to share the pain as well as the triumphs with our audiences. Christian life and also the artistic life, isn’t all successes and victories; often the best work is born out of painful journeys. Even if you’re not an artist, there is purpose in every life situation that you face. A failure sometimes has more value than a success because we gain so much through learning how to navigate through the disaster. 

And by the way of example, I wrote You’re So Hard On Me when I was facing opposition as a single mother, I painted Walking Into The Light when I was emerging from the nightmare of domestic abuse and I wrote If That’s The Way when after a miscarriage. None of these projects were easy to create but they connected with my audience in a profound way and were cathartic for me as well. 

So when your heart is broken, remember that there is purpose in the pain. You may not see it yet, but you might produce some of your best work and also help others along the way. We never fully know the impression that our work leaves on someone, but if we handle our creativity well, our calling to be an artist might just save someone’s life…

I just love it when a news headline brings the truth of a matter into sharp focus… Over the last nine months, the state of the arts and its significance in the British economy has been hotly debated. I’ve mentioned before the importance of the large contribution the arts sector brings both financially but also culturally to society. One headline caught my eye recently, Dolly Parton partly funded Moderna Covid vaccine research, partly because I wondered what her motivation for donating to such a cause was but also because the donation came not from the business sector, but the arts. 

I find it ironic in a time when the arts sector feels abandoned by the government that a musician should make a financial gesture of this magnitude to a cause that is so pressing. Often the press portrays superstars as egotistical or fame-hungry, and I will admit that at first the cynical side of me wondered if this was a publicity stunt, however, Dolly’s reputation goes before her in this arena. What we know is that she loves to give back to as many charities and organisations as possible. Her impoverished childhood gave her a good understanding of caring and looking out for others; not only does she regularly donate but she has also set up her own charities. Her business acumen has put in her in position to to give to others, and it is evident from her philanthropy that she takes great delight in doing so. 

So what better than a vaccine where the research has been funded by the proceeds of music! Where someone people are driven by greed, Dolly has used her platform to influence and help others for good. I would even go as far to say that the Lord put her in a position to help others in this very time of need. God always knows the desires of people’s hearts and the timing needed to bring peace; he knows how to make it all work for our good, he is never late but right on time. It’s a wake up call to all of us as to what our motives our for creating art, and what we want to people to take from our creations. It’s about putting others first and then taking the opportunity to give back. And it seems for Dolly that working 9 to 5, made a way to fund a vaccine…

After five weeks of quarantine, the COVID-19 situation is no longer a surprise to the nation. We’re settling into new routines, ways of working and communicating, and accepting that life is going to be very different for the next few months at least. For some people life hasn’t changed at all: key workers are working harder than ever to keep essential services going, whilst others have found themselves unexpectedly unemployed. This has led many people to raise questions as to what this season in life may be all about…

For some time, I have felt that this is a season of rest and resetting. On an international scale, we’ve never had a period of time where so many nations have come to a halt all at the same time. We no longer need to travel to work, school or church. There are no social activities available to entertain us outside of our homes, and our travel footprint has been reduced to one trip a week to the supermarket. We now have to time to stop, think, reflect and enjoy where we are. There is no doubt that we will come out of this lockdown wanting different things in our lives, most importantly, a much simpler existence. The resting period is teaching us that there so many things in life that we don’t need: no non-essential items cluttering up daily living. Things that stop us being who we are, drain our energy, or divert our attention into needless causes. 

This is also a period of incubation. New hobbies have been found, new business ideas developed and there is space for artistic and creative exploits. Even the way we work, shop and reach out to our families and friends has evolved. Technology is almost struggling to catch up with us. There is no doubt there will be an explosion of innovation and development from this period of lockdown. But all of these things emanate from rest. The space to be able to stop, think and relax in order to let the mind wander and create. 

The reflection also helps us to let go of failures and hurts form the past. We have an opportunity to deal with the things that worry and hound us. If we let go of those things now, we will be fit and ready for a new season. Our “busyness” has stopped us from dealing with past issues and now is the time to be healing and forgiving ourselves and others. This truly is a time of divine reset, starting over and rebuilding from scratch. Forgiveness flows from resting in the knowledge that the past has gone, and resetting ourselves by letting go of the past. Forgiveness leads to a fresh start. 

Air pollution is at an all time low for the first time in decades, probably even a century. The earth is recovering from the ordeal that we have put it through. One of my friends commented that “..while humanity struggles to breath with COVID-19, the earth can breath for the first time in years.” An unexpected positive side effect from the lockdown is that our environment is cleaner and safer than ever; humanity is being forced to let the world heal and flourish. 

Although this period of time is frightening and frustrating in many ways, the outcome of resting and resetting life will benefit humanity long after this season is over. If you can take anything from this strange season of confinement, it’s the rediscovery of who you are, and the preparation for the next season ahead. A new season is loading, and this is merely the buffering while the season downloads. So rest ready for the reset. 

Photo by hammondgower.co.uk