What Is the Japanese Technique of Kintsugi?

Kintsugi Pottery Bowl

Haragayato / Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0

There is something rather magical about the Japanese art form of Kintsugi and how it transforms something broken, or in the traditional sense imperfect, and makes it more beautiful and into a work of art of its own. Instead of hiding away the repairs so that the user or viewer cannot see them, Kintsugi celebrates them and makes them into the focal point. Using Kintsugi in your work can really add value to your pieces and, while sometimes it's fiddly to create the effect, it can be quite exquisite. 

Fun Fact

Kintsugi means quite literally "golden joinery" or "to patch with gold." In fact, Kintsugi is a practice that suggests that repair can make things better than they were when brand new.

Where Did Kintsugi Originate?

The history of Kintsugi dates back to the 15th century and it is thought that the story goes that a Japanese military commander sent a tea bowl back to China for repairs. The bowl came back stapled together and it sparked an idea for a Japanese potter to look into different ways of repairing things. Thus, Kintsugi was born. The broken porcelain or earthenware is repaired with a resin or a lacquer that comes from trees. The sticky resin is then sanded or buffed until you almost can’t feel the crack. The artist then covers the crack with a new resin that’s been combined with gold. The effect is so desirable that ceramicists now smash their own pots so they can use the technique.

How to Use It in Your Own Work

Traditional Kintsugi uses urushi lacquer (which is actually related to poison ivy) and a real powdered gold to make the repair. Modern replica materials have been created, which are less hazardous and less expensive. It’s also been known that the Japanese used lacquer and binding rice flour, which was much safer.

There are plenty of kits you can buy to create your own Kintsugi, like the ones you can order on Etsy from Humade. The kit includes epoxy fast glue and epoxy putty and gold powder. All you need to do is mix the resin with the gold powder and apply it to one side of the edge you want ​to be covered, then press the edges together. While the resin is still sticky, you can brush on a small amount of the gold powder. Use a little of the epoxy putty in the spaces to bind it together.

Types of Kintsugi

There are a few different types and styles of Kintsugi. Firstly, there’s the traditional crack technique where gold dust or resin is used to attach the broken pieces, so the thin threads of gold run along the pot almost like veins. Secondly, there’s the piece method, whereby a large piece of the pot may be missing but the missing segment is filled entirely with gold or gold lacquer, this technique is called Makienaoshi. Alternatively, a joint is where the plate may be made up of completely different pieces and joined together with Kintsugi. 

Using Other Metals in Kintsugi

It's not just gold that can be used for the art of Kintsugi. Popular effects also include silver, copper, and bronze, and sometimes a mix of them all is used. When real gold is not being used, a gold effect using gold powder can be used in its place. Similarly, an aluminum powder can be used to achieve silver, bronze powder for bronze, and copper powder for copper. Often, a water-resistant, colorless substance is applied. This means that the piece of work will be more scratch and erosion resistant, meaning the ceramics will be much more durable. Kintsugi is a beautiful but quite fragile way of working.