Growing up, Kelly Winton did, in fact, judge books by their covers—they were everywhere around her. Winton’s father, Charlie, founded the distribution company Publishers Group West, and the ones with the best covers rose to the top for his daughter, even though she didn’t yet have a defined grasp on graphic design.
Rather, at Berkeley High School in California, Winton had discovered photography, and she seemed to be following more in the footsteps of her mother, who worked in film production. Winton pursued the craft at UCLA while simultaneously studying history—and working under her mentors, Catherine Opie and Barbara Kruger. (Of the latter, Winton says, “She taught me to stand by my choices and to really define my ideas and look at things conceptually. She was a great historian as well and exposed me to a lot of different artists and art movements.”)
In her senior year, Winton nabbed an internship in the photo department of Vogue’s West Coast office. While she was envisioning a future in photo production or becoming a photo editor at a magazine, the experience helped her define what she didn’t want to be—namely, a fashion photographer. While she admired the craft, she found herself much more naturally moored in landscapes, the gritty, or the unexpected.
Meanwhile, regardless of whether or not she was consciously trying to avoid it, book publishing remained a recurring undercurrent in her life. After school she’d worked at the Diesel bookstore in the Brentwood Country Mart managing the art and photography sections, and developing insights into what made the commercial world of publishing go round.
Alongside everyone else graduating in 2009, Winton entered the workforce in the throes of a crippling recession… and began to make a career out of internships. First, as a photo intern at the Fraenkel Gallery. Then, as an editorial intern at Afar magazine (where she’d gaze longingly at the art department). Then, as a photo assistant at 7×7 magazine, where she encountered InDesign for the first time. Finally, Winton took a gig as a production assistant at Counterpoint Press. As she rose within the company, things began to coalesce—she became more drawn to design, and with the cover process, in particular, she discovered a brilliant synthesis of her interests and passions: There was photography. Fine art. History. As she went about hiring freelancers for covers and doing some art direction, she wondered:
“What if I actually just designed one?”