We had the good fortune of connecting with Jo Skillman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jo, why did you pursue a creative career?
I knew I wanted to put useful things into the world that weren’t there before I made them. I like problem-solving. I like creating the unexpected. I like giving people the right tools to be able to be themselves and do things that need doing. From the time I was five I wanted to be an artist. When I learned what a designer was, I wanted to be that instead.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
In my work at Black Sheep I build large-scale brands and creative campaigns specifically for cultural relevance and engaging people. In order for creative work to stand out in that way, it has to be very, very different from other brands and campaigns we’re met with daily. That means I get to build really unusual and unexpected things, from the eye-catching to the curiosity-inducing, and I love it. I’m a collector of trivia and random factoids, and they massively inform my work. Instead of inspiration from Instagram or design magazines, it’s inspiration from estate sales and friends and travels. That’s where all the best ideas come from anyway. I have the exact degree you’d expect someone in my position to have (B.F.A. in Communications Design), so I guess I’ve been on a pretty straight path to get to where I am. But it’s always a little difficult to build your own space. When I first started at Black Sheep we weren’t known for our creative or design work because that wasn’t our focus. But we turned out to be really good at it, and now it’s a huge part of what we do. I began with the startup mentality of a tiny, new company where we were just trying to do things other people weren’t doing, and then I ended up missing my ten-year high school reunion in 2015 because I was literally at the White House for work. Probably the number one lesson I’ve learned is just how much of any creative job is practice. Ira Glass talks about this in “The Gap.” It’s just so easy to compare yourself to the people around you and how talented they are and how far you are from where you’d like to be. And you just put your head down and keep trying and keep building and making and the gap between your taste and your abilities gradually closes.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Oh, man. I do this every year for my birthday: Schedule a whole weekend of activities and restaurants I’ve discovered over the past year and invite everyone I know to show up to anything that interests them! I would probably attempt a tour based in neighborhoods: Heights, East Downtown, Third Ward, Montrose, Downtown (they’re a client!), international district, etc. Smither Park, Project Row Houses, The CAMH, The Menil. Anything unexpected and largely outside is a plus. The food halls like Bravery Chef Hall and Politan Row are always fun. Other favorites include Golden Dim Sum, Cuchara, Killen’s BBQ in Pearland, Johnny’s Gold Brick, Tongue Cut Sparrow, Pondicheri, Jupiter in Sugar Land… I could go on, but it’s just getting ridiculous now.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The Black Sheep Agency, obviously, where I’ve worked for nine years. Aimee Woodall hired me very young and has let me stretch into new areas. My creative team there, who also has to put up with my growing pains as a director and who are so talented in their own creative work and so willing to constantly grow and explore and pivot. My mentor Kelsey Ruger, one of the most brilliant individuals I know. My parents, who are creative in their own ways and always allowed me to make a mess in my pursuit of all things musical and artistic. For going beyond the usual parenting notions of self-confidence and acceptance and just encouraging me to be totally and fully myself, even if that self made bizarre clothing choices. Much love to my fellow Houston creatives, making a life in a city not known for its artsy-ness and making it so anyway—all while putting in such an effort to be inclusive of everyone. I’m so thankful to be in Houston.
Video screencap via circlesco.com