For this spread, I started with this verse of the poem:
Over the river and through the wood,
When Grandmother sees us come
She will say, Oh dear,
The children are here,
Bring a pie for every one.
I decided to show the grandmother looking out the window, watching the family arriving in their sleigh. Here's my sketch:
The idea was to show the scene from right outside the window, so we see the grandmother inside, and we see the reflection of the family in the sleigh. I knew it would be tricky, but if it worked, it would be a great way of showing all the different elements of that moment.
My art director loved the sketch, so then I started painting. Here's my finished painting. Well, the first version of the finished painting...
So I put this up on my wall with all my other finished illustrations and moved onto the next picture. I was pleased with how it came out. But then something happened that made me question it. Any time anyone visited my studio and looked at the artwork on my wall, they stopped at this one. Sometimes people said they liked it, but then there would be a moment of confusion, where they'd say, "Wait a second... so is she... oh, I think I get it..."
People liked the image, but apparently they couldn't quite tell what they were looking at. Was it a reflection of the grandmother, or a reflection of the sleigh? I realized that maybe the picture was a bit confusing. So I decided to add more frost to the window, to make it more clear. Here's how it looked after I made some changes:
I liked this one better... or at least I thought it showed more clearly that we are outside, looking in at Grandma who is inside, and we see the reflection of the horse and sleigh. Done and done.
But then I had another idea (uh-oh...). What if I showed the scene from inside the warm, cozy house? What if we're looking out the window with Grandma, and we see her reflection in the glass? Hmmm...
I liked the idea. But honestly, I didn't like the idea of starting completely over, after all the time I had already spent on this picture. But the more I thought about it, I figured I should give it a try.
I started over, and I made a whole new painting. Here it is:
And that's the one that ended up in the book. I think it works better this way. I like the contrast of the warm interior and the cold, snowy outside. And the curtains make it completely clear that we're inside, looking out.
It's always hard to go back and do something over, especially after I've already spent 5 or 6 days on it. But it's almost always worth spending that extra time to make sure I get it right.
And there was a silver lining here- when I was just about done with this book, a tour group from The Mazza Museum in Findlay, Ohio came to visit my studio. I showed them both versions of this illustration and explained this whole story. The people from the museum loved the paintings, and ended up buying both! So now both of these illustrations are part of the permanent collection of the Mazza Museum! So it all worked out.
Here's another behind-the-scenes look at Over the River and Through the Wood: