Kintsugi is an ancient technique for repairing broken pottery that originated in Japan in the 15th century. The idea of this technique stems from the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi – the art of imperfection or the art of natural simplicity, according to which even broken things can be beautiful and their flaws need not be detrimental, on the contrary, they become part of the object.
Every flaw, crack or even complete breakage becomes part of the history and life of that piece of pottery and is no reason to throw it away – on the contrary, the pottery is glued back together and can live on.
Thanks to this technique, a kind of decorative veins are then created on the glued pottery, which tell its story and also have a special, decorative effect. The cracks are therefore not masked in any way, on the contrary, they are acknowledged and highlighted with a beautiful gold, silver or other colour. It is also a very ecological idea, because the jars, cups, bowls and other containers are recycled and do not end up immediately in the rubbish dump, even if they get damaged or broken.
What is so decorative about this technique?
Why do glued mugs and containers look so interesting and aesthetic? Probably the element of chance that comes into play the moment a piece of pottery breaks. It is not a regular or deliberate pattern, but entirely and simply an effect of nature and the laws of physics. Perhaps that is what is so interesting about these vessels – no human being could have created such a random pattern on their own, and perhaps it reminds us of the important (however subtle) role nature plays in our lives.
What material is used?
A special putty was used to glue broken pottery together, either by mixing coloured powder into it, or by painting the putty with a brush after it had dried to bring out the colour in the joints. Powdered gold, silver or platinum was used to colour the joints. Today, however, all kinds of glues and other adhesive materials and artificial dyes can be used for this technique.
Species of joints
There are several types of joints used to put ceramics together. Besides the most common one, called Hibi, which uses a special varnish or putty and powdered dye, there are two other techniques:
Kake no Kincugi rei
A technique by which missing or unusable fragments of pottery can be replaced. Gold and lacquer are used to make a whole large “patch” in place of the unusable piece.
Jobicugi is also used to replace missing pieces, but instead of a mixture of varnish and paint, a piece of pottery from a completely different vessel is used, creating a sort of collage of two vessels.
Other lesser known techniques
As an alternative, the technique of metal clamps was also used to repair ceramics, instead of using putty and dye. Small holes were drilled into the pottery along the crack and then joined together with these clamps. This was a kind of alternative to sewing two pieces of cloth together with a needle and thread – only instead of cloth, the pottery was joined with metal instead of thread.
However, this technique was not so popular from the beginning because it was not nearly as aesthetically pleasing and decorative. It is even said that when the emperor repaired his pottery using this technique at the end of the 15th century, he did not like it and ordered the craftsmen to come up with something nicer. So the Kintsugi technique using putty was developed and became so popular that even at one time collectors deliberately broke and glued their pottery to make it more interesting and pretty.
Make Kintsugi at home
You can create this art yourself at home. All you need is any glue or putty suitable for ceramics or other materials, depending on what your cookware is made of, and any dye or colouring powder. Glue the broken crockery together and then colour the joints with any dye you like – or you can mix the dye with the glue before gluing. You can also get whole kits designed for Kintsugi on the internet, where you can already find everything you need.