Former florist recreates famous cultural figures using buttons, brooches and beads

Joanne O’Neill's artwork of The Joker and David Bowie made using buttons. Credit: PA

A former florist who has made recreations of popular cultural figures including Jimi Hendrix and Frida Kahlo using buttons and beads has said the response to her work has helped her improve her skills.

Joanne O’Neill, 60, from North Lanarkshire in Scotland, now uses buttons of all shapes and sizes to recreate everything from famous faces to popular paintings.

“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.”

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

Ms O’Neill’s artwork of Jimi Hendrix used guitar badges Credit: 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.”

She also added Bowie's signature red face streak with an orange star button to reference his song, Starman.

For Frida Kahlo, which she said was one of her “favourite” faces to work on, she used “loads of broken flowery jewellery” found in her home.

Ms O’Neill’s recreation of artist Frida Kahlo Credit: 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.”

The retired florist described the process of how she does "the nose usually, then the mouth".

She said: “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.

“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.

Ms O’Neill’s Starry Night artwork Credit: 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.”

Ms O'Neill advised people with an interest in button art to begin by trying to collect different sizes 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”.

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