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5th June 2016

Interview with an Artist: Jo Howell

Imagine it. 3 am in the morning and Alyssa has woken for a night feed. The room is lit only by the glow of her night light and the soft dimmed glow of my phone as one hand feeds whilst the other aimlessly scrolls through my social media channels catching up on what has happened since I went to bed. You’d be surprised how

many notifications I get in that time! Anyway, I wasscrolling aimlessly through my Facebook and came across an old college friend of mine Jo Howell, who from what I remember and can see today is one of the most amazing artistic talents I have ever seen in so many aspects.

I had a look at her wonderful art and photography and knew that I wanted to do a feature piece on her, my first interview on this blog to help highlight the amazing artist she is and the work that she does.

So everyone, this is Jo Howell.


“Coi Carp”, Cyanotype print on watercolour paper, by Jo Howell 2016

1. Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m an artist, photographer and filmmaker based in the North East of England. I usually work with charities, other artists and the public. I do a combination of commercial commissions, and self motivated conceptual artwork.

2. What made you start your own business?

I finished University in 2009. Throughout my formative years, in college and Uni, I worked in various bars, restaurants and call centres. After getting my BA in photography, video and digital imaging from Sunderland University, I knew I had to become self employed because the job I wanted didn’t actually exist.

Commercial photography of Phil Vickery Glass Sculptures 2016

3. Tell us about your work.

What I do is extremely varied but always involved with art. Most weeks I get my bread and butter from teaching workshops in photography and art in different charities. Working predominantly with people who have mental health illnesses and people with learning disabilities. Alongside these regular workshops I do commercial photography and film making for hire, and I work on my own participatory art projects. These are projects that I design and deliver to the public or community groups, I then use the work made in workshops to produce and curate an accompanying exhibition/book.

4. Where did the name come from? (If you have one)

My business name is Jo Howell Photography and Maverickart. The Jo Howell photography part is generally the more serious commercial ‘does-exactly-what-it-says-on-the-tin’ name used mainly for internet searches, and Maverickart came from the sense of being young and feeling maverick in the way that I wanted to produce art. I’ve never been interested in doing things the way other people think that they should be done. I want to shake things up. I want to help Sunderland’s vibrant but very much understated cultural scene to get the recognition that it deserves.


Commercial photography, Helma Rud Glass Sculpture, 2011

5. What 3 things do you need most to run your own business?

Pure grit and determination: There will be many set backs. Especially in the Arts.

Honesty and punctuality: Always be honest and on time. If all else fails other business people, well anyone really, will be appreciative of these qualities.

Put everything you have into everything you do: I think this is important for existential reasons. I literally can’t sleep at night if I think I could have done something better. This also helps me to be self analytical, any mistake made is actually a lesson learnt.

6. What’s your end goal?

I want to be able to afford to cut back on the commercial aspects of my work and work purely on art projects that I have designed. I still want to work with people but rather than as the hired hand (studio/event/report photographer) but as the architect who will help you to bring out your creative side. It would be heaven to be able to dream of projects and to be able to see each one through to its wonderful conclusion, but funding for projects is few and far between, and often the money offered in funding doesn’t always cover all of the work involved. Hence, the varied way I approach work. Its good to be prepared to diversify in the Arts, I have worked on projects in film making, animation, photography, fine art; I have curated shows, consulted on arts projects, developed courses and installed public artworks. Variation is key to putting food on the table.

7. What’s it like being self employed?

In all honestly I love it. It gives me great pride to know that in the midst of an awful economic climate that I have managed to build and sustain a business, but it is also very risky. My mainstay of work is currently art on the front line, working with underprivileged groups of people, but the savage cuts to disability allowances, cuts to charity funding, and cuts to funding of the arts have hit hard.

Commercial photography, Annie Jones Ceramic Sculptures, 2013

8. How supportive is your partner for what you want to do?

My partner is also an artist. He’s a glass blower who is self employed. We are very supportive of each other. Its like having a peer mentor in the house!, which, I’m sure can be frustrating at times but ultimately its a relationship of intense creative discussion. Sometimes its good to have a sounding board, that someone to say ‘oh that’s a great idea!’ or equally as important ‘Oh I don’t think that will work….’

9. Where do you see yourselves in 5 years time?

I hope in 5 years time that I will have some of my projects in national or international galleries and shows. I’m working my way up to it, but I’m waiting until I have an amazing body of work. I’m nearly there!

10.Where do you get your ideas for your projects from?

A lot of projects come from that time when you’re about to fall asleep. I have a restless mind and often that time when you are trying to relax is actually the time when my brain wants to run through everything step-by-step. Some of the ideas float off into the ether but those that were the most interesting generally stay with me, prodding me in the side until I actually do something about it. Alongside this whimsical way of imagining work I am also constantly researching. Whether that be through visiting shows or talking to artists, or reading, or to just generally collecting life experience.

Commercial Photography, Robyn Townsend, Glass and Concrete, 2012

12. Would you ship internationally if there was interest? Or have you?

In the past I have sent works to Australia and America. Posting internationally is not usually a problem, though for some larger scale works collection is preferred.

13. Favourite piece you have created

My favourite piece is actually an entire project. I’m currently working on a 3 year community pinhole photography project, Look and Inspire, and one of my favourite pieces to come out of it are the pinhole photographs printed onto brushed aluminium. They have this gem-like quality to them. Its something I am going to explore using more of my own double exposure images soon.

14. Best part about being an artist?

I love working with people. I like meeting other artists and having intellectual conversations about how we see the world, and I definitely like being able to make things with my own two hands. It allows me to present my vision of the world as a physical reality.


Pinhole photographs, double exposures in medium format film. From the first series “Walk” created in 2016.

15. Best and worst parts about having your own business

The best part about running your own business is the ownership you feel over everything you do. The downside to that is that if anything goes wrong then you only have yourself to blame!

16. Biggest struggle you face?

The biggest struggle we face as artists is a dangerous political one. There are certain politicians who are undermining the importance of art, and creating an impotent version of a cultural society that is no longer able to creatively think. I think we are getting into a frightening socio-political territory where arts subjects are no longer going to be taught in schools, where the poorest have no access to creative learning, where art is once again only reserved for the elite. I think that this is a massive problem for artists up and down the country.


Pinhole photographs, double exposures in medium format film. From the first series “Walk” created in 2016.

17. Most important thing people should know about what you do

Wow, this is a difficult question! I think its important for people to realise that there are artists like me in every city or town. Its important to know that we are working hard and are producing great work or projects right on your doorstep. In my case, I’m doing projects that I would love for more people to be involved in. We all see the world in a completely unique to us way. I find that notion of many worlds within our one world completely amazing. Its something I like to explore. So with that in mind, look for local artists and projects, and support them. Go out and take a workshop. Preferably one of mine!

18. Would you say you are capable of being commercial or prefer to be out of the box?

I do both, and hopefully the technical skill of the commercial work will help to keep the creative side practical, whilst the creative side will keep the commercial work fresh and interesting for clients.


Pinhole photographs, double exposures in medium format film. From the first series “Walk” created in 2016.

19. What people can contact you to do?

I can be hired for workshops or art project development. You can hire me to document your art projects for report and evaluation, or social media. You can buy my own artwork directly from me. You can bring your glass or ceramic sculptures (or any artwork) to my studio for portfolio and promotional images. You can hire me to take resource images for your artwork like portraits or still life. I can curate your art show or come into your school or youth club to help you create an art installation. I can help you create a frame-by-frame stop motion animation or film you creating your artwork. The list is pretty endless as long as it involves something creative!

Images in preparation for a Light Drawing workshop, 2016

Thank you so much Jo for giving us an insight into such a creative world and for sharing some of your amazing and eclectic artwork with us. If you’d like to work with Jo then feel free to reach out to her on any of the platforms below!

Mummy in a Tutu signing out!

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