Airdrie artist Melissa Bruglemans-LaBelle's very first attempt at an illustration of a children's book was something she says happened because the stars aligned.
Flip Flop Jack, written by Brenda Joyce Leahy brings to life the story behind the 100-year-old tradition of the Stampede Breakfast started, which was started in 1923 by Wildhorse Jack, the author's grandfather.
“My mother Frankie [Frances Morton] was seven years old the year her dad served the first pancakes downtown and I thought children would respond to Frankie's point of view,” Leahy, granddaughter of pioneer rancher Wildhorse Jack said.
The picture book chronicles the antics of ‘Wildhorse’ Jack Morton, a larger-than-life Alberta cowboy (1879-1944) who loses every event at the Stampede rodeo but celebrates by hosting a huge pancake breakfast the next morning — confusing his little daughter Frankie.
But Bruglemans-LaBelle's involvement came almost by happenstance.
"It was just a twist of fate. I have always wanted to do a [children's] illustrated book. A friend of mine suggested that I sit down with the publisher - Red Barn Books Inc.," she said.
Though she is no stranger to the artistic, having been commissioned previously to do many window murals in honour of the Stampede, Bruglemans-LaBelle said illustrating a children's book was quite a process. In the beginning, she assumed she would sit down, sketch and doodle and go from there. It turns out that after she completed the sketches she had to then digitize them and upload them on the computer and work with various editing software.
"After fine-tuning it, making less background or making less detail or making more detail, I finally started developing the actual characters and the scenes and then I would do the blackout lining and then I would upload it onto the computer. It was just a lot of back and forth. It was very eye-opening."
But what about her inspiration? Though Bruglemans-LaBelle has painted countless Western scenes, she said that the development of the illustrations of the characters came from the very title of the book - pancakes.
"My characters always had these really huge mustaches - whenever I did stampede windows - they had these huge mustaches, very long legs and big, huge hats," Bruglemans-LaBelle said. "But because the story was about flapjacks - the hats are mimicking pancakes themselves, where they have a floppy sort of aspect to them. Even the bolo ties that a lot of the characters were wearing, or even the belt buckles- they look like little pads of butter."
If discerning readers look very closely, one can see what appears to be small drops of maple syrup on the bolo ties in the illustrations - another homage to the story and the history of Alberta.
The storybook will hit bookstores around May 15 and is available online as well.
To celebrate the launch on the 100th anniversary of the iconic Stampede Breakfast tradition, readings will take place at LitCon (Calgary Public Library's youth reading festival) on June 1, Owl's Nest Books on July 8, and in partnership with the Stampede Breakfast Caravans.
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