Monday, March 5, 2012

The Button Tree Story

It all started with a painting of a tree and a bunch of buttons. And it was all Kim's fault. That's what I reckon anyway.

In the beginning we just painted for the pleasure and the fun of it, with no audience or purpose in mind. And it was nice to sit at the dining table after Missy P went to bed and paint. We'd have a vino, a chat, half-watch a movie at the same time and bounce ideas off each other. We weren't even trying to make anything to sell.

Then one day Kim painted a curly tree on a canvas and got some buttons out. I don't know what gave him the idea. I don't think even he knows what gave him the idea. He scattered them around the branches like leaves. We both looked at it and then at each other. It worked. It really worked.

A selection of our button artwork

 So we made some more. We booked a market stall. We sold some.

There used to be a little section in The Saturday Age newspaper called 'I made it myself' in which artists and crafters featured their wares along with a short description of the creation process. I wrote in with our button tree because I thought it would be a bit of a lark to be featured. Nothing happened.

I discovered Etsy and started building a shop. It was fun. I listed three items. Nothing happened.

Then it was Kim's 30th birthday and we were throwing a big lunchtime shin-dig at a local pub. It was a Saturday. As we were getting ready I started browsing through the paper, as is my Saturday morning habit. And there, in the 'I made it myself' section, was a picture of our button tree. I ran to the bathroom where Kim was getting ready and shouted, 'look, look!'. We may have done The Price is Right dance. I can't remember. Let's say we did, because it's highly likely. Or maybe that was just me.

Of course, our newspaper debut settled at the back of our minds during the day's festivities but when we got home all three items in our Etsy shop had sold and our inbox was filled with countless requests for button trees. We were completely unprepared!

So we got to work. We painted, we booked markets, we listed our trees on Etsy, we sold more button trees, we got email requests, we painted some more, did some more markets. We got featured in more newspapers. A journalist came to our home with his little notebook. Surreal. A photographer made me stick buttons on my face for a photo shoot and Kim had to paint swirls on my cheeks. I felt like a prize goose. Then we made more button trees. Phew, it was exhausting. But so much fun. Honestly, those heady button tree days were some of the funnest times. And it all just sort of happened by accident and seemed to have its own momentum.

The original 'I made it myself' feature and other press

Then our baby turned into a toddler and the whole button thing started to get a bit impractical. And we had other ideas we wanted to explore with our art. We each had individual projects we dreamed about, which we couldn't really work on while we were knee-deep in buttons. So we stopped doing markets and scaled back our Etsy shop. Then we only made button trees on request. Then we stopped altogether, because although we loved making them, and loved selling them, and our customers loved them, they took a long time to make and we couldn't really sell them for a price that reflected the materials and time we put into them. And as I said, we had all these other art projects we wanted to get to.

Our stall at the Rose Street Market, Melbourne.

And then I became pregnant with our second bub and all art ceased because, honestly, I could barely keep my eyes open most of the time. I neglected this blog. I barely even looked at it. And then one day I checked the stats, I don't know why. I certainly didn't expect to see any traffic happening. But to my bemusement, the activity on the blog was going berserk. There were huge spikes of visitors on a regular basis. Same with our Etsy store. I didn't investigate because I just thought there was something wrong with the analytics settings. Those stats just couldn't be right. I hadn't even posted in who knows how long! And our Etsy store was closed. Closed!

Then after I had our second daughter late last year I started to think about art again. I thought about getting back into blogging. I started reading other blogs again. Then Pinterest crossed my radar. I didn't really get it. But people on the interwebs kept mentioning it, so I checked it out.

Then it clicked. That was where the traffic was coming from. I looked into it. And I was shocked. Our button trees had been pinned. A lot. Not just a few times. They had been pinned and re-pinned hundreds and hundreds of times. Wow. I was in awe. But I didn't know what to do with that information. That's interesting, I thought, pity we don't make them anymore. And then I moved on.

I revamped this blog and started posting daily. I took notice of the stats. And I realised that people were coming to the blog every day from Pinterest. Every single day we get so many hits from these pins. Then I started feeling bad. People were clicking on our button tree images and being directed to a blog that had undergone such a transformation that there really wasn't much on offer if you were looking for the low-down on our button trees. Still, I didn't know what to do about that. I wanted to offer something to all our Pinterest pinners. I wanted to give them - you - something in return for visiting.

And then I thought, well, I could offer up a couple of things. I could tell the story of how we came to make buttons trees. And also how we came to stop making them. And here it is.

Secondly, I could show everyone how to make them. We still get requests for custom orders and while we really love that people love them, we just don't make them anymore. But you can make one yourself. You really can! And later this week I'm going to post a detailed tutorial which will show you how to make your very own button tree. I hope that you will like it. And I hope that you will try your hand at making one if you're so inclined.

But in the meantime, I just want to say thank you for your visit, and we want you to know that if you've come from Pinterest, we do notice you popping in here, and we just wanted to say 'hi'!


  1. This is so nice to read, especially after all the negative stuff that I have been hearing about pinterest lately.
    Your button trees are delightful and I just might have to do one in fabric:)

  2. I love your story! I didn't come to your blog via Pinterest or the button tree, but I love the story, especially how it came to be because you were just painting for fun. I love serendipity. :)

  3. Your button trees are adorable!

  4. They are really lovely! Great story, but what I like most about it is how you guys have not been afraid to move on from this success to other projects that reflect your art and your direction as artists now. It takes a lot of gumption to do that. And they are gorgeous pieces of art - and no doubt will be prized collectables now! Looking forward to the tutorial :)

    PS: Will reply to your email soon!

  5. What a great post, Jodi, I think you and Kim are an amazing team - who happen make great babies, too :D xx

  6. Hah! Love this post! Those button trees are so beautiful :) what a stroke of genius!! & how amazing how things can just take off, when you least expect it! I agree with the comment above - cool that you moved on, too. It takes guts to know when to do that - for yourselves! It reads like it all started with a 'huh??', and ended on the same note, and that really is awesome :)

  7. HI!
    I'm visiting from (where else?) Pinterest, and I have to say, I love your trees. I have business cards (just for a Christmas time craft show that I do) with a very similar, swirly tree on it, so when I saw your canvas, I fell in love! I want to make one for my home now. Thank you for sharing!!

  8. Great story Jodi! Good on you Kim, I love those button trees. :)

  9. I love your story....and yes, I'm here from Pinterest because when I saw the picture of those button trees I just had to investigate further! Thank you for sharing the beginning :-D and the end :( with us. And thank you for the tutorial!

  10. visiting from Pinterest. I so want to do this in some manner- these are so lovely. I want them all! I love buttons so this will be a great fit for me...hope I can do something as nice as these.

  11. Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for the story!

  12. I love your button trees and thanks for the story. I have been wanting to make one and this has been very helpful. Keep up the amazing art work!!!

  13. I just found you through Pinterest and can't wait to read it though I doubt my feeble attempts will look nearly as lovely! Thanks for sharing the story behind the button trees.

  14. what a great story behind a gorgeous design!

  15. Wiley~
    I wanted you to know...
    the High School ART classes I teach
    will make button trees this winter,
    all because I saw your blog
    and the story and tutorial!
    thank you for "sharing the love".
    >I have 2 small classes
    of a dozen students each,
    (a painting class & an AP art 1 class)
    they will use actual canvases and button.
    >I have 2 great classes
    of 30-ish students each,
    (required art 1 classes)
    because of financial restraints,
    these students will create a button tree
    using paper, paint, scissors and glue!
    thank you ~ thank you ~
    to you and Kim for hatching this idea!

  16. Isn't Pinterest just the best? I love these trees! Going to make them with my kiddo this summer!!!

  17. Loved reading your story. It's always nice to find the origin of an idea. All the best to you and yours. :)

  18. Jodi! I was just looking for button art trees on Google as after 2 days of thinking about and sketching out ideas for some christening gift for Alexander I decided that is what I would make - it went from a watercolour of a church to a button tree! And I clicked on an image in Google and I can't believe it has brought me to your blog!!!!! Wow! What a coincidence! I'm going to try and do something with Wedgewood colouring - like cornflower blue with white buttons. No doubt I'll blog it when I do! Thanks I'm going to have a read up of this post now!

  19. How lovely it's been coming across your blog. Thank you for sharing your wonderful, whimsical button trees, you story and your tutorial - what a generous spirit you have.

  20. Wow oh wow what a story indeed!! Love this idea! Totally going to do it with my treasures!! Thanks heaps, for your inspiration and sharing :)
    Smiles Sharnee x

  21. Very nice, congratulations from France.

  22. I love these! I wonder if it would be possible to add names to the buttons and do a family tree? I would even love to have the names of ex's (parents of children that you want to acknowledge) and put their buttons on the ground as falling from the tree. Still there, just not quite part of the family anymore. I would love to have one.