Anna Shinoda

Behind the Cover: The Incredible Photography of Kelia Anne MacCluskey


2p_learning_jkt-version-21.jpgBehind every cover is not just the story written by the author, but also one of how the visual representation of that book came to be.  This is the story of how Learning Not to Drown ended up with its incredible cover.

EDWIN USHIRO To Counter Imponderability

EDWIN USHIRO To Counter Imponderability

You might be surprised to hear that most authors get little to no say in what their covers look like.  Since I can be really pickycontrolling, hands-on, I wanted to give my suggestions on what I’d like to see.  I also am very aware that I don’t know anything about what makes a good cover for a book and the professionals Atheneum/Simon & Schuster definitely do, so I timidly asked my editor if I could give them a small list of some artists that I thought would represent my work well.  My editor told me that YA books usually have photos on the front, but, decided to give an illustration a chance.  It turns out that Edwin Ushiro was on both my list and theirs.  He painted a beautiful swimmer inspired by Clare, surrounded by water both dark and light, tumultuous and calm.  I immediately hung his painting in my office across from my desk, where I could easily be inspired by Edwin’s art. But, early testing of the cover came back with some tough results – most people thought the book was mid-grade, not YA.

Michael McCartney at Simon and Schuster got to work on designing another cover for Learning Not to Drown while I continued to work on edits… and continued to have stress nightmares about my cover.

When the final jacket came to me, I fell in love.

Although the photo was taken years before my book was completed, it looked like it had been created just for Learning Not to Drown.  I instantly looked up the photographer – Kelia Anne MacCluskey –  and almost passed out when I discovered that she took the photo WHEN SHE WAS ONLY SIXTEEN.

I haven’t been able to meet her yet in person, but I was able to connect with her via email and do an interview. After finding out more about Kelia, I was even more impressed – not only is she the photographer (at that time largely self-taught), but she also was the model, AND she taught herself how to use photoshop through online tutorials and experimentation.  She is a true artist, and I look forward to see much more of her work in the future.

AS: I love that the photo looks almost like a painting.  Can you tell me a little about the process from taking the photo to manipulating it?

KM: This image simply started out as an idea. I could imagine exactly what I wanted to portray, and I knew a lot of the elements had to be added through Photoshop. It started as a very basic image of me leaning back on a chair. I spent hours manipulating my hair and adding small but important details like the bubbles and caustics from the water.

Kelianne's photograph before it became the cover.

Kelia’s photograph before it became the cover.


AS: How do you pick your subjects?  Is it you in the photo?

KM: When I took this photo, I was a high school girl trying to navigate the somewhat burdensome yet necessary events of adolescence. I think at this age, almost everyone has some kind of identity crisis. I wanted so badly to be an artist. I wanted to be known for something. I wanted to create. When I would be struck with an idea for a photo, I would shoot it immediately. The combination of these things resulted in many self-portraits.  Recently, I’ve been scouting for models everywhere I go. Instead of just basing everything off of aesthetics, I observe their mannerisms, their body language, the way they talk, everything that contributes to who they are. It sounds strange, but I kind of fall in love with people before I meet them. If I see someone who mirrors some kind of emotion that I’m trying to portray, I’ll approach them. This has led to a lot of awkward conversations with cute boys. I have to ensure them that it’s not a cheesy pick up line, but then again, sometimes it is. I think that’s the best part of being a photographer, you’re always surrounded by beautiful people.

AS: I think it’s pretty incredible that you took the photo when you were 16. (Is that right?)  When did you start taking pictures?

KM: I was in eighth grade and experimented with my Dad’s Sony DSLR quite a bit. Eventually, I got my own ‘point and shoot’ digital camera that I absolutely treasured. Unfortunately, a lot of the photos taken with that camera ended up being Myspace profile pictures. (The ultimate self-portrait practice!) When I was 15, I took the Photography elective at my high school. I began to take photos outside of class, and spent hours trying to learn Photoshop. I truly immersed myself because I had finally found something that I loved to do. Learning to make good images with basic cameras definitely benefitted me. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I got my own camera. Now that I’m in art school, I have the opportunity to shoot with professional equipment which is almost too much fun.  

One of my favorites by Kelianne.

One of my favorites by Kelia


AS: What kind of training did you have when you took the photo?

KM: I learned everything I knew through online tutorials and experimenting with Photoshop. It was definitely a lot of trial and error, but I was so in love that spending hours editing one photo was enjoyable.

AS:What kind of equipment do you like to use?

KM: All of my digital work is shot with a Sony a55v, but recently I’ve been shooting a ton of black and white film with my Canon AE-1. I’ve spent countless hours in the darkroom trying to master printing, which is much of a more intimate and beautiful process than Photoshop. There are tons of applications between editing a digital photograph and printing a negative, and I love translating the process between the two.

AS: How does it feel to have your photo representing a book that you haven’t read?

KM: It is absolutely thrilling! The reason I make photographs is to pour every ounce of my soul into a single image. If my soul can translate into another piece of art, such as Learning Not to Drown, there is nothing more gratifying.

Love this picture so much that it makes me want to write a story around it.

Love this shot by Kelia so much that I dream about writing a story around it.


AS: You are currently studying at Savannah College of Art & Design.   What do you want to do with photography?  Do you have a dream job?

KM: Yes, I’m currently a sophomore at Savannah College of Art & Design. I’ve had the opportunity to take classes like drawing and painting, which has changed everything about my aesthetic, how I shoot, and what I shoot. I am beyond blessed to have the opportunity to attend the school. I would love to shoot fashion in the future, but I also am so devoted to portraiture. I think taking intimate and personal photos of celebrities would be an absolute dream.

One of my favorite portrait shots on Kelianne's site.

Another one of my favorites by Kelia.


AS: Anything else you’d like to share?

KM: I have learned recently that the most beautiful work comes from dark and sad places. My favorite photographs have come from the most painful heartbreaks. Artists are artists because we are so incorrigibly sensitive. We notice things. We fall in love easily. We take things personally. I used to think of these things as negative qualities, but I’ve learned to be grateful for them.  

You can find more of Kelianne’s amazing photographs at  She’s also on twitter @kkelia and one of my favorites to follow on Instagram @kelianne

Single Post Navigation

53 thoughts on “Behind the Cover: The Incredible Photography of Kelia Anne MacCluskey

  1. Very* (autocorrect)


  2. I know I am reading this post veet late.. I mean really ver late. But I am very much impressed with the girl! Sh me has great creativity and photography skills! 😊


  3. frankdealba on said:

    Very interesting, Amazing.


  4. theculturedsass on said:

    Reblogged this on theculturedsass and commented:
    Inspiration comes from all kinds of places.


  5. yxx68 on said:

    Reblogged this on deareststarlime.


  6. So so awesome! Words can hardly explain!!


  7. I adore your cover and I absolutely agree with you about that garden shot… it is awesome! Love it! How gifted this artist is… thanks for the link I am heading over to check her out now 🙂


  8. silversun008 on said:

    Wow, what a great post!
    I really need to read Learning not to Drown now!


  9. What a wonderful interview and great pieces of art. Very inspiring.
    Thanks for sharing!


  10. Reblogged this on Rapunzel2323 and commented:
    I Like this story, it’s a very interesting way to think of how artists and authors get along.


  11. I really enjoy you’re blog. I am 15 and I aspire to become a screenwriter/ director. I post regularly but I have only just started so I have not got very many followers. Could you please read my blog and give feedback in comments section? Writing is my passion. And being heard is too. Can you share me if you like the blog and only if you like the blog. Thank you.


  12. What a wonderful, detailed post about your book cover. While I haven’t read the book (yet), I’ve seen it in stores and have admired it’s cover. It makes the book compelling before a viewer even attempts to pick it up and look it over. I’ve been hired to design a book cover before and it’s can be very difficult. As I look back on it, and after reading your post, I think it might be better, as in your case, to find existing art/photos that work, rather than creating the painting or photo after the book has been written and try to create exactly what the publishers have in mind. Anyway, thanks for the post. Very interesting 🙂


  13. murphykarges on said:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Love this..


  14. murphykarges on said:

    Amazing story.. Amazing photographs. A great read..


  15. Thanks for posting this. Great work


  16. Wow. The photograph is fantastic and I love the behind the scene story. It amazes me that the photo was taken originally in a chair. Thank you so much for sharing this.


  17. wildmaiden on said:

    Kelia is very talented!! I love the line the most beautiful work comes from sad dark places so true!!


  18. Reblogged this on random pieces of mind and commented:
    “KM: I learned everything I knew through online tutorials and experimenting with Photoshop. It was definitely a lot of trial and error, but I was so in love that spending hours editing one photo was enjoyable.”

    this has struck a chord with me. a C major, perhaps.


  19. Really interesting blog thanks for sharing…


  20. I have always had a fascination with cover art, so thank you for taking the time to credit your cover artist! So many artists get pushed to the side these days because artwork is readily available everywhere online. This is unfortunately especially true with photography. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Reblogged this on maddywithsam and commented:
    Soo creative i must say!!!!


  22. Thank you so much for this post. I’m really impressed at your graciousness in giving so much attention to the photographer, when she gave so much to your book! Congratulations to both of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Reblogged this on erinspiller and commented:
    Woooow! I love this!


  24. This is gorgeous!! I am an aspiring writer as well! You might enjoy my blog


  25. Wow, beautiful shots! The hours of hard work in preparation and post-processing really paid off!


  26. Reblogged this on sokolsmart.


  27. Wow this is amazing!


  28. Reblogged this on thecomplexitybeingsimple and commented:
    Thanks to the writer for sharing this article.. I could relate straight to the picture when I saw it… (=


  29. Reblogged this on emmadol's Blog.


  30. This is amazing because I just learned about cover art. Book cover art. To me it sounds like a dream come true. Do you know if it can be a career? Full time? Or just a side job? I love this!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. That is pretty incredible how much goes into the cover. It is an incredible art being able to write and write well. Continue writing because we all enjoy reading your work!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. This is Cool and very Interesting! Check me out! Incredible

    Liked by 1 person

  33. aditi1641 on said:

    This is one fascinating story! I wish you luck with your debut novel! The cover is another piece of art that will surely attract readers’ eyes in a bookstore. I’m glad that you were so satisfied with your cover. I think, if I was an author, I would want to be part of the team designing the cover, because I would want to convey the first impression I want the reader to have. Sure, people are told not to judge books by their covers, but isn’t there a certain degree of influence on the reader after looking at the cover? Likewise, I think the story will be great because the photograph is extremely captivating. Good luck again!

    Liked by 2 people

  34. follback sis 🙂


  35. Reblogged this on afriktales.


  36. i am also interest in this kind of novel, you are going to like my blog,


  37. I very appreciate young beginning artists, who are self-taught, motivated and disciplined by their selves, following their dreams during lengthy process of learning and making.
    Kelia is true artist, her work is great and I think she took down real feelings originating from real life. And the cover for Learning Not to Drown looks like it was created just for this amazing book.
    I completely agree with Kelia´s quote, that artists are artists due to their sensitivity, they notice things that “normal human beings” don´t and take personally even the furthest things they are not able to fix. True artists are people who are full of dynamic feelings; unfortunately they may come across with incomprehension by telling in words. So they put their authentic feelings into creativity and that´s what makes their piece unique.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. evooba on said:

    Ok, I certainly wouldn’t ever guess that she was actually sitting on a chair when the photo was taken. I am impressed! Job weldone!
    I must say, I truly appreciate whoever knows how to work on Photoshop and similar softwares. It is amazing what you can do with it… anyone can learn how to use it, in a degree, but the true magic comes when the creations are indeed mind blowing.
    Also, never thought an author couldn’t have much say in what their book cover would be or look like. But this one was a great fit! It is an amazing photo! I’ll check more of Kelianne’s work for sure!

    Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: