mandag den 4. februar 2013

Buttons, circles and the beauty of life.

'What I love...' (1) 

This blog post will be the first of a series of 'What I love...'. 
I'm inspired by many things. Most often I don't know why. For some reason I'm just drawn to whatever it may be. I think we all know this feeling. We're attracted to something - or someone - and we don't know why. And we don't have to know, but on the other hand it's my experience that a better understanding of the things that fascinates me will lead to a better understanding of myself and the world around me.

The other day I visited one of my favorite bookstores in Copenhagen. It’s one of these shops where you can spend hours, getting lost in beautiful photo books of all kind: travelling, art, photography, picture books for children, unusual biographys etc. I was tempted to buy a book linking Tove Jansson’s Moomins with philosophy, a heavy book about the history of the postcard and another heavy one with the history of silk.
Silk is a bit of an addiction of mine actually. I probably should have lived in the late 1800s as an aristocratic woman. Or maybe I should have lived in the 1920s. Oh the elegance of that time. And then again the 1940s had their quiet charm too. I really do have a thing with silk, especially silkdresses. And in particular silk dresses with a beautiful pattern. And eyecathing buttons. 

Front page of the book 'At se en knap' / 'Look, buttons' by Ilse Christensen.

The discovering of a favorite book

This brings me to what I ended up buying in the bookstore. It was a little book about buttons that stole my heart. I had to bring it home with me. You know when something has your name on it. The book is brand new: ‘At se – en knap’ (Look, buttons). Made by Danish designer Ilse Christensen who is a passionate botton collector.  It’s full of images of buttons of all kinds. Some made of metal, some of bone or wood, glass or leather. The variations in both shape, color and material is amazing. There’s more than 2500 buttons in the book. To me it will be a source of never ending inspiration for my drawings. Her life long passion now serves as inspiration for others.

Childhood memories

Discovering the book made me go on a journey back to my childhood.
My grand mother had a box made of wood full of bottons. Unusual buttons. It was my favorite thing to play with when I visited her. Unfortunately it did not survive in the family when she died. Hopefully someone who loves bottons has that box now. I can still recall the feeling of putting my hands in the what felt like an ocean of buttons, raising my hands and letting the buttons fall down like water. This memory combined with this beautiful book made my wonder why I have this love for buttons. What’s so special about them?

Contents in 'At se en knap'

The history of the button

Buttons were used as ornaments in the early days of it’s history (900 B.C). Function wasn't added until much later.  In the middle ages when clothes started getting fitted, buttons were used to show the lines of the body at the right places. Buttons could be made of any pricy material and they had a significant meaning and value.  The button has always been linked to wealth. You could even pay your debt in the middle age with buttons because they were so valueble. 
This article tells the full story of the button. Super interesting if you want to know more.  

What I like about a button is that it can be a little piece of art. At first you may not even notice it. But then you discover the little details. A lovely color. An unusual shape. A story perhaps. Or they can be candy like. And I’ve always loved candy too. 

From the website 'Button Country'

The shape of the button
Most buttons are round and I’m fascinated with the shape of the circle. I particularly love the shape of the circus arena (‘circus’ comes from the word circle btw), the center of the eye, the sun, the full moon. Symbols that keep re-appering in my drawings. The other day I read that what defines the circus is in fact the shape of the arena. The fact that people are watching the show from all around the arena creates a special community. The audience become one with the performing artists.

The circle as a symbol

So the circle is also a symbol of unity. Always has been. The circle represents the spirit and the cosmos. It has no beginning and no end and within the circle you can feel safe. This is why it was often used in various ancient cultures. A tribe was safe within the circle, both literally and spiritually. This makes the circle a very powerful symbol.
The circle is also seen as a symbol of equality because it has no divisons or sides. No wonder that if you google ‘office tables meetings’ you’ll see quite a few round tables. It’s important too create a feeling of equality and being together in modern study- and worklife. A modern tribe. I can’t help thinking the circle also can be seen as a community that can be difficult to step away from. Once out, it’s difficult to get back in. So the circle can also appear unbreakable in a bad way. 

Beauty within the circle - from Button country.

I probably like the idea of creating true beauty within the circle. Going through my drawings I realise how the circle is everywhere in what I draw. Even if it’s not a defined visible circle, it’s still there. I like the idea of a circle that’s open to the world but has the strength of the infinite line. Invisible strength. 

I created this drawing immediately after the tragic school shooting in Connecticut in december 2012. With out being aware of it at the time I created a safe room for the children with their mothers that would take care of them: the invisible circle.

The beauty of the Mandala

Mandala is a sanscrit word for circle. The mandala is used as a spiritual guiding tool and for establishing a sacred space. The mandala represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically. It’s like a microcosm of the universe from the human perspective.
I guess you can say that buttons are small universes too. A tiny cosmos of perfection. Or at least they once were. Today buttons seems to be practical most of all, with less details. And made with less love. They've become functional like the world around us. And we value other accesories such as the watch higher today. And then again the watch has lost it's value to the cell phone. From circle to square. From continual motion to a stable, but unmoving shape...

The circle shape button has lost it's value to square like 'time and efficiency'. 

Mandala (found at
Buttons as jewellery

I often fall for a piece of clothes because of the unusual or delicate buttons. Which oftens means that it’s an expensive piece of clothes (and so I try to wait - impatiently - for the next sale). I don’t wear a lot of jewellery but I wear buttons if I can.  A favorite silk dress of mine, now completely worn out, had the most amazing buttons. The dress itself had a bit of victorian look about it. No visible cleavage, but the dress had these unusual, almost aggressive buttons that looked like small black mountains with the shape of a cone – or nipples like if you would,  and that changed the whole statement of the dress. I’m still sad that the dress died. Luckily I still have the buttons...

Button jewellery made by Ilse Christensen, in her book

About the book:
The book ‘At se – en knap’ is in danish but there’s so little text in the book and so many wonderful images of buttons that any person with a love for visual beauty can enjoy this book. The introduction in the book says that it’s a book about design and buttons, for anyone seeking inspiration in shape and color. 

The book has links to websites with more buttons too. 
One of the links is Button country. Very inspiring too.
Ilse Christensen has made an english version of her website, so go see more for yourself.