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Beautifully Broken Things | Kintsugi – Art of Repairing Japanese Pottery with Gold

“The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.” Ernest Hemingway

Kintsugi is a Japanese method of artful pottery repair using gold to fill the cracks of a broken piece.

The pieces are considered more beautiful and valuable than before because of their brokenness and careful mending.

Brokenness, in one form or another, inevitably enters every life – broken dishes, broken bones, broken dreams, hearts, spirits.

image of porcelin cup repared - Kintsugi

Psalm 147:3 assures us that our Father heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Depending on how we learn to view our brokenness and healing, we can come to see ourselves as even more beautiful and stronger than we’d have been if our brokenness and mending had never occurred.

Kintsugi is a beautiful physical representation of this concept.

In this breakout session we will enact the “breaking”, “mending” and finally the ”gilded-beautification” of our own personal piece of pottery as we contemplate the ways in which brokenness has appeared in our lives and the ways in which our Father can recreate us, working all things, even broken things, for our good and His glory.

image of women creating Kintsugi

Recommended Reading: Mended: Pieces of a Life Made Whole by Angie Smith

Supplies:

  • Piece of ceramic pottery 
  • Pillowcase
  • Hammer
  • Small metal file or coarse sandpaper
  • Super glue (gel works best) or Gorilla Epoxy
  • Exacto knife
  • Q-tips
  • Acetone
  • Gold leaf pen or paint (and thin artist’s paint brush) – found at craft stores
women creating Kintsugi

Directions:

  1. Choose a piece of ceramic pottery.
  2. Place inside a pillowcase and drop on the floor or hit with a hammer.  The goal is to smash the pottery into several fairly large pieces without crumbling it too much.
  3. Figure out how the pieces fit together. It’s okay, even desirable, to have some holes or raw edges in the piece if some of the pottery breaks too small to reassemble. In order to have some areas that really show the gold leafing, I file down some of my edges to make the cracks wider in some areas. A metal file or even coarse sandpaper can be used for this.  Glue the piece back together using super glue (on one edge only works best). Be patient holding the edges together until they bond – this may take more than a few minutes. Any glue that squeezes out of the cracks can be cleaned up after drying with a q-tip soaked with acetone, or scraped off with an Exacto knife so that the gold leaf has a place to settle into.  I have also read that Gorilla Epoxy works well for this project,too, but it will leave a fairly large bead of glue in the cracks that will need to be cleaned up after the glue cures.
  4. Apply the gold leaf along the cracks and raw edges, either with a thin artist brush, if using gold leaf paint, or with a gold leaf pen. If the gold leaf extends too far outside the cracks for your liking, you can clean up with a q-tip soaked in acetone.
image of women creating Kintsugi

Understanding Kintsugi

Kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” is more than just a repair method; it’s a testament to resilience and beauty in imperfection. Let’s explore the rich history, philosophical significance, and the meticulous technique behind this Japanese art form.

Historical Context

Kintsugi emerged in the 15th century, during Japan’s Muromachi period. Legend has it that Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repair.

Unsatisfied with the metal staples typically used in staple repair, he prompted Japanese craftsmen to find a more aesthetically pleasing method.

This led to the development of kintsugi, which became closely associated with tea ceremonies, themselves an art form cherished for their representation of mindfulness and simplicity.

Philosophy and Aesthetics

The art of kintsugi is rooted in wabi-sabi, a Japanese concept that finds beauty in the flaws of nature and the serenity in transience.

This aligns with Mahayana philosophies which embrace imperfections and value marks of wear as essential parts of an object’s history.

By repairing broken pieces with gold powder mixed with urushi lacquer, a once shattered item can be transformed into a stunning piece, symbolically giving it new life.

The Kintsugi Technique

In the elegant world of kintsugi, the art of ‘golden joinery’ is not just about mending what is broken; it’s a philosophy that treats repair as part of the object’s history.

As you learn about this meticulous craft, you’ll discover how it transforms broken pottery into stunning artworks with golden seams.

Preparation of Broken Pieces

Before the actual repair begins, a kintsugi artist delicately readies the broken object. Your first task is to clean and align the pieces of pottery meticulously.

There can be missing fragments, which means that now you must decide whether to fill in the gaps or to leave a mark of the object’s past life.

You will apply a thin layer of filler to provide a base for the lacquer if necessary; this is critical as kintsugi places a great deal of attention on getting the details right.

Application Process

The core of kintsugi lies in its unique application process. You, the artist, use urushi lacquer, a natural sap from Japanese lacquer trees, which is a commonly used technique by Japanese craftsmen.

You will bond the pottery back together with immense pressure, paying attention to every crevice to ensure a seamless fit. 

Gold pigmentsilver powder, or a blend of brass is added to the lacquer, bringing the golden repair to life, creating the signature gold lines along the repair line for both strength and beauty.

Finishing Touches

After the lacquer sets, you will apply the finishing touches to your kintsugi work. This involves polishing the gold lacquer repairs to achieve a smooth finish. The repaired piece, now shimmering with golden repair, not only returns to utility but also gains new life as a testament to its resilience and your careful ease of application.

As a piece of kintsugi, it wears its history proudly; the gold lines tell the story of its journey through breakage to beauty, celebrating a long history of Japanese craftspeople turning what was once broken into art with a world of kintsugi approach.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you will find answers to common inquiries about the traditional Japanese technique of Kintsugi, which celebrates the beauty of repairing broken pottery with gold. Explore the cultural significance, the process, and how you can engage with this art form.

What is Kintsugi and why is it significant in Japanese culture?

Kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” is a revered Japanese art form that mends broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. It’s significant in Japanese culture as it embodies the philosophy of wabi-sabi, finding beauty in imperfection, and respecting the history of an object.

Can I repair broken pottery at home using the Kintsugi method?

Yes, you can repair broken pottery at home using the Kintsugi method. It requires patience and attention to detail, but with the right materials and techniques, you can restore your pottery and give it a unique, golden scar.

What materials are included in a typical Kintsugi repair kit?

A typical Kintsugi repair kit includes a lacquer adhesive, a powdered gold, silver, or platinum dust, and sometimes fine brushes for application. Some kits also contain wooden spatulas and mixing sticks.

Where can I find tutorials on how to perform Kintsugi?

Tutorials on how to perform Kintsugi can be found online, ranging from detailed video demonstrations to step-by-step written guides. Many of these resources are provided by experts in the craft to guide you through the process.

What is the spiritual or philosophical significance behind Kintsugi?

The spiritual or philosophical significance behind Kintsugi lies in its principles: it teaches that breakage and repair are natural parts of an object’s life and should be embraced rather than hidden. The use of gold to highlight fractures symbolizes this acceptance and celebrates the journey and imperfections.

How does Kintsugi compare to other methods of repairing pottery?

Kintsugi is unique compared to other methods of repairing pottery because it doesn’t seek to make the item look new but instead enhances the breaks with a golden seam. This is different from conventional repairs, which often try to conceal the damage. Kintsugi emphasizes and beautifies the damage, making it a visible aspect of the item’s history.

Please share pictures and thoughts in the comments below.

Looking for more posts with ideas for retreat breakout sessions? Try these:

Faithful Frames and Prayer Plaques

Crochet for Christ

Polymer Clay Pens

Want to remember this? Post this article, Beautifully Broken Things, to your favorite Pinterest board!

image of women creating Kintsugi

Be sure to share or pin for later!

18 Comments

  1. We did this with the women at our breast cancer survivors retreat. It was a beautiful lesson for these women who feel broken.

  2. Hi, I am thinking of doing this with a group of 15 year old girls. How long would you need for the this project?

    1. We plan for an hour and 15 minutes for our sessions. We try to do it early so the pieces can then sit and dry while we do other activities.

  3. I’m so glad that I found this. There is a song that I have from The Florida Boys called Broken Vessels. It’s all about how God, being the master Potter, can put back our broken lives and make us whole again. I make different crafts and do craft fairs, etc. I have always wanted to take some broken clay flower pots and put them back together but in a very decorative way and called them “Broken Vessels Made Anew” or something to that effect and this gives me just the right idea. It won’t be the same as this retreat project but as soon as I can get one finished I will share with you.

  4. I don’t see any pictures of completed pieces. Please post. This sounds like a great project for our teen girl’s summer camp.

    1. Hi Mel! I wish I had pictures of completed pieces, but I’m not sure I took any…. just took so many from the process of it all. Next time, I’ll make sure I take some and in the meantime, I will try to contact some of the ladies and see if they could send me a picture. I’d love for anyone to share photos of finished pieces so I could share them here. Thanks so much for taking time to comment. I know the ladies all found this session meaningful.

  5. Is there any pottery that we should stay away from? We might use this for a session during a retreat for women in recovery. It would be bad for this not to work well.

    1. Hi Sherri, I asked your question to my good friend who led this session, and here is her response – “I might stay away from fine China or porcelain and go with thicker ceramic. The finer, thinner pieces were much more difficult to glue and some couldn’t get their piece to glue at all. The thicker pieces like the mug I bought from (friend/potter) worked the best. Also, I advise that the leader try it herself at home first so she can offer hints and encouragement to her participants. She’ll know what they’re experiencing and how to guide them better. Finally, I would advise her not to pulverize the pieces when breaking. A few larger pieces to glue together is better than lots of little pieces.”

      Hope that helps! Let me know how it goes! <3 ~Julie

      1. I had the same experience…for “fine” china, the sanding really helped, but I still had participants who couldn’t put together their pieces. Gorilla glue gel worked the best; I tried, super glue, lock-tite, and nothing worked. Also, as a note, the pure acetone ATE THE BOTTOM out of the little plastic cups I was using for each participant.

  6. Hi! Last weekend I hosted my annual women’s conference and one of the speakers spoke about Kintsugi. It immediately sparked a theme for next year’s conference. So this morning I began to search for suggestions for breakout sessions and here you are with Kintsugi. I think I’m going to utilize your idea next year. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you. It was such a moving activity as so many of us feel broken in one way or another. Blessings, Julie

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