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How to invent a town: The making of B'ville

Updated on August 1, 2012

B'ville, A musician's homecoming story

B'ville is on sale at Barnes and Noble as an e-book. A paperback version will be available very soon.
B'ville is on sale at Barnes and Noble as an e-book. A paperback version will be available very soon. | Source

The creation of the town of B'ville

B’ville, a musician’s homecoming story, is John Sheehan’s latest published novel and is available for sale as an e-book at Barnes and Noble. A paperback version is coming soon. John created a unique cover illustration: A bird's eye view of the fictional town of B’ville. John recorded the progress of this painting in pictures and this presentation is offered here with a step by step description of how the illustration was created.

How to invent a town from the imagination

So how does someone invent an entire town from their imagination? It is not as simple as consulting Google maps, finding a small town and copying the picture. The painting is a rendering of the setting of the novel. If B'ville were an actual town, it would be located a few miles east or maybe southeast of Franklin, Tennessee, which is located about twenty miles south of Nashville, Tennessee. The Harpeth River was used as a main tributary. Some of the atmosphere and the street layout of the town of B’ville was captured from memories of my experience living in Franklin, Tennessee, for almost nine years from 1975 to 1984. Additional research information was acquired from the study of small southern Tennessee towns and their historic development dating back to the settlement of the south before the American Civil War. Some photographic reference was used with respect to architectural styles. The town was shaped by the events in the novel, B’ville, from which this painting originates.

Work began on the painting of B’ville in early March of 2012. The final drawing was finished by the last day of March. Painting was begun on April first and the full illustration was completed by June 1st 2012. The painting was photographed about every three to four days.


From drawing to canvas

Steps 1 - 3: The making of B'ville

Step 1: A perspective grid was drawn on tracing paper. The size of the drawing was 24" x 24". Various preliminary sketches were made of some of the individual buildings such as the diner and the town square area prior to creating the finished drawing. B'ville was drawn up according to a rough map that was created of the town as part of the design process before beginning the final drawing. The drawing of the town of B'ville was laid out on tracing paper layered over the perspective grid. Step 2: A third layer of tracing paper was placed over the drawing and the colors were chosen and rendered in colored pencil. Step 3: The image of the town was redrawn and upsized with a brush on a 36" x 36" canvas using a burnt umber acrylic paint thinned down with water to a wash.


First stages of painting

Steps 4 - 6 The making of B'ville

Step 4: The sepia drawing was stained with highly watered down colors using the color sketch as a guide. Step 5: The paint is applied beginning in the background on the horizon in muted shades of green and gray and blue. Step 6: The direction of the sun is from the left or the west at about three in the afternoon in late spring. The trees are lighter shades of green to reflect at fact that the foliage is not yet fully in bloom. In order to give the impression of depth, colors are muted in the background. The values are darker and the paint hue is deepened as you come forward.

Painting progresses

Steps 7 - 9, The making of B'ville

Step 7: As the painting progresses, some of the elements in the picture are changed and lines are more strongly defined in some of the buildings as the details emerge. Some color and tree placement decisions are made during the process of painting. Creating a painting is an organic process and changes are made as progress continues. Step 8. The lines in the town buildings are more tightly defined and colors hues are strengthened and values deepened as the progress moves forward. Step 9: By now, the vision of the painting is further taking shape some decisions with respect to composition must be made.

B'ville emerges on the canvas

Steps 10 - 12: The Making of B'ville

Step 10: As progress continues, decisions had to be made about changes in the composition and these are reflected in the next two frames. Step 11: Three bridges were removed and replaced wih culverts or sewer pipes. Step 12: At this point in the progress of the painting, changes were made in the placement of trees and the roads. More changes were made to improve the color and composition and further define the lines and shape of some structures.


B'ville comes alive

Steps 13 - 15: The Making of B'ville

Step 13: By now changes are made in structures to further define them and details are added to the storefronts and other aspects of the town structures. Step 14: As the painting progresses forward, colors are chosen to reflect distance to create a sense of depth and there is an effort to create the illusion of a late afternoon sun as it washes over the town. Step 15: More changes are made as the painting progresses. More trees are added around the pond.


B'ville approaches completion

Steps 16 - 18: The making of B'ville

Step 16: More trees are added and the church in the foreground is further defined. Additional elements are added such as the indications of a picnic crowd at the rear of the church. Step 17: More details are added with respect to the picnic. Parked cars are left undefined as to reflect the suns wash over the landscape and the feeling of distance because you are looking down from several hundred feet. Step 18: Final compositional decisions are made with respect to the flow of the picnic crowd and the addition of a tent canopy and a tour bus for the visiting gospel singers performing under the tent.

Final B'ville Illustration

B'ville: the finished Illustration

Shown above is the finished painting. You might ask, how do you know when a painting is really finished? Do you go on adding more detail and embellish some of the work already done? It can be a difficult decision to stop. I decided that the addition of more detail would have ruined the illusion of capturing a moment in time. It is sometimes preferable to indicate detail with the flick of a brush and let the viewers imagination do the rest.


Bville illustration integrated with book cover

The e-book edition of B'ville, a musician's homecoming story is now on sale at Barnes and Noble.com
The e-book edition of B'ville, a musician's homecoming story is now on sale at Barnes and Noble.com

The Illustration integrated with the Book Cover

The finished cover: The final picture is the illustration integrated with the cover design. Dozens of different layouts and color combinations were draw up before this layout was chosen in addition to selection of colors and type style. Many of these design decisions were made before the illustration was completed. The integration of the illustration and elements of color in the illustration into the overall design was critical to the final design package.


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