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Former florist recreates cultural figures using buttons, brooches and beads

Joanne O'Neill has made around 20 pieces of button art, including recreations of David Bowie and Frida Kahlo.

A former florist who has made recreations of popular cultural figures including Frida Kahlo and Jimi Hendrix using buttons and beads has said that getting feedback from fellow creatives has been “great” and has helped her to hone her craft.

Joanne O’Neill, 60, who is retired and lives in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, told the PA news agency that her previous profession as a florist gave rise to her button art, which has seen her use buttons of all shapes and sizes to recreate everything from famous faces to popular paintings.

Art made using buttons
Ms O’Neill’s button art of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (Joanne O’Neill/PA)

“I started to make wedding bouquets from brooches and pieces of jewellery for a while and when that went out of fashion, I was left with all odd bits and pieces,” she said.

“I thought, what am I going to do with this? And I started off making small things like a Christmas tree and it progressed from there.”

Since then she has made around 20 pieces of art, including David Bowie twice, Frida Kahlo and Jimi Hendrix and tries to add in an element which is “appropriate for the person”.

Art made using mini buttons and guitars
Ms O’Neill’s artwork of Jimi Hendrix used guitar badges (Joanne O’Neill/PA)

Ms O’Neill put a creative spin on Hendrix’s afro by using more than 50 different coloured guitars, which were a mix of buttons, spoons and brooches.

“I had loads of wee guitars and so I used them to make Jimi Hendrix’s hair,” she said.

“I had a few brooches of guitars and my nephew plays guitar, so I bought him spoons which were in the shape of guitars one time, but he never got round to getting them, so I think I used them.

“And some of the guitars are wooden buttons.”

Bowie’s signature red face streak was also added to Ms O’Neill’s artwork of him as well as an orange star button to reference his song Starman. For Frida Kahlo, which she said was one of her “favourite” faces to work on, “loads of broken flowery jewellery” which Ms O’Neill had in her home aided the piece.

Frida Kahlo made using buttons
Ms O’Neill’s recreation of artist Frida Kahlo (Joanne O’Neill/PA)

“She was an iconic figure and she had very distinctive features,” she said.

“I tried not to soften her up because that’s not how she looked. I wanted to make it look like her.

“I had loads of broken flowery jewellery and so I thought, I’m going to do Frida Kahlo so I’ll put them in her hair.”

She added that when she makes images of faces, she starts with the eyes first.
“If you get the eyes right, you kind of get the look,” she said.

“I then do the nose usually, then the mouth.

“Nine out of 10 times, I lay down all the buttons and make a very quick draft and then I walk away and go back to it.

“Nine times out of 10, I scrape it over and start again because when you’re close up looking at it, it looks OK, but when you step back it doesn’t look so right.

“So I tend to make a few false starts if you like – it can take me three or four times before I say that should definitely go there – but then, as I come across and go through all the buttons I’ve got, I get ideas about where to place things or replace a button with something more appropriate – with a better colour or shape.”

Ms O’Neill has also recreated paintings including Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, to which she added a “wee Mona Lisa” and Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. She also included a sunflower brooch to pay respect to Van Gogh.

The length of time it takes to make each piece of work depends on what Ms O’Neill has at her disposal.

Image made using different coloured buttons
Ms O’Neill’s Starry Night artwork (Joanne O’Neill/PA)

“It can take me days or it can take me weeks – it depends on if I have the stuff I need to make the art” she said.

“Sometimes I start to do something and then I need to look for buttons or beads so I may have to leave a piece aside until I come across what I am looking for.”

She added that she “loves” when she gets comments for her work, especially as she makes her creations as a hobby.

“It’s great, it’s good to get feedback – it does encourage you,” she said.

“I’m on a few button Facebook pages and I see other people’s work and I look at how they do things and I think, I never thought about doing that.”

For those with an interest in button art and in need of advice, Ms O’Neill said to begin by trying to collect different sized and shaped buttons.

“Square buttons give you a good edge and if you’ve got a button that you particularly like, keep it towards the end so you can sit it on top of another button so you can see it,” she said.

She added that the most important thing to do is to build out the facial features including the eyes, nose and mouth, otherwise “you’ll quickly lose” the shape of the face and “the smaller the art, the smaller your buttons need to be”.