Breaking a favorite vase or antique ceramic can be devastating. While your instinct may be to throw the damaged object away, there is an alternative practice that will not only revive your pottery, but create a new piece altogether.
What is Kintsugi?
Kintsugi is a centuries-old Japanese art of repairing broken pottery and transforming it into a new work of art with gold, the traditional metal used in Kintsugi. The name of the technique is derived from the words “Kin” (golden) and “tsugi” (joinery), which translate to mean “golden repair.” The scars and cracks of the broken ceramic become the focus and turn the object into something unique and exquisite.
If you’ve broken your favorite ceramic dish and want an elegant repair solution, follow this guide to making your own Kintsugi art. All you need is a few items and our step-by-step video tutorial below.
The History of Kintsugi
Kintsugi, or Kintsukori, dates back to the 15th century, when according to legend, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favorite chawan, a Chinese ceramic tea bowl, and sent it back to China for repair. It was returned and fixed, but bound by ugly metal staples. This inspired him to find an elegant way to amend the ceramic, and as a result Kintsugi was born.
Kintsugi pottery pertains to the Zen ideal of Wabi sabi, the concept of embracing imperfection. It means finding pleasure in aged and worn objects, and value their blemishes as beautiful. Kintsugi repair also relates to other Japanese expressions, such as mottainai, which means to regret wasting something, and mushin, which means to free one’s mind and accept change.
Kintsugi Art Materials
Traditional Kintsugi uses urushi lacquer and rice flour to bind the ceramics together. Today, you can practice the Kintsugi tradition with accessible materials:
- Clear epoxy resin or other ceramic adhesives
- Gold mica powder or liquid gold leaf
- Thin disposable paint brush
- Broken ceramic or porcelain dish
- Scrap paper
- Masking tape (optional)
- Paper bag (optional)
- Hammer (optional)
If you do not have a broken dish, you can still create Kintsugi art by intentionally cracking an object yourself. To break your ceramic, place the item in a paper bag, then lightly tap the object with a hammer until you hear it has broken. Carefully remove the pieces from the bag.
How to Make Kintsugi Pottery Art
Project time: 20-30 minutes
Step 1: Choose your Kintsugi object
Choose the ceramic you wish to apply the Japanese gold repair to. Select one that is used for decorative purposes, not for food or beverage consumption, as epoxy resin can be toxic if consumed. After you’ve selected which dish you wish to prepare, determine which Kintsugi method to use:
Crack method: Objects are glued back together using golden adhesive. This is the most common Kintsugi method.
Makienaoshi method: Fragments from the object are made up entirely of the epoxy to replace the missing pieces. This method is ideal for ceramics with chips or parts shattered beyond repair.
Joint method: Portions from two broken ceramics are combined to make a unified dish. The difficult part of this method is finding parts that fit together. To make it easier, select one ceramic to be the main object, and supplement it with small pieces from another one. The broken fragments do not have to fit perfectly together, as you can use the makienaoshi method to fill spaces between the two ceramics.
Step 2: Prepare the adhesive
If you are using mica powder, mix equal parts mica powder and epoxy resin on scrap paper. Do this right before you are ready to glue the objects together, as this mixture cures quickly.
If you are using liquid gold leaf, you will only need the epoxy resin for Step 3. Save the liquid gold leaf for Step 4.
Step 3: Glue your ceramics together
Paint the edges of your broken ceramics with your adhesive, then push the pieces together. The epoxy resin may seep out of the pottery slightly.
If you are following the makienaoshi method, place masking tape on one side of the ceramic where the piece is missing. Ensure it is tightly bound to the dish. Then, fill in the missing piece with epoxy resin.
- Tip: Glue smaller pieces together first to make assembling the ceramic easier. To ensure a smooth process, wait for the small fragments to dry for a minute or two before moving on.
Step 4: Create gold lines
If you are using mica powder, sprinkle the powder on top of the cracks when the adhesive is almost dry to brighten the gold. To keep the dish clean, place masking tape around each crack before dusting with mica powder.
If you are using liquid gold leaf, wait until the adhesive has dried (10-15 minutes) before painting on the lines. If you used gold mica powder, you can add additional strokes with liquid gold leaf for a more apparent Kintsugi effect.
- Tip: Use an exacto-knife to scrape off the thick layer of the resin for a more delicate, subtle look. If you are using liquid gold leaf, do this before painting on the new lines.
Once you like how the piece looks, wait two days for the adhesive to completely set before using for decor.
After your Kintsugi pottery is completed, you’ll now have a new piece of art to exhibit in your home. Don’t hesitate to display it with your other antiques—the essence of Kintsugi is about recognizing the beauty in the broken and the unbroken.