Posts tagged “Pots

Repairing a Broken Bonsai Pot

I’ve been buying a lot of pots from Japan over the winter so I suppose it is inevitable that one would arrive broken (although it could have been prevented with better packing). Fortunately I didn’t pay a lot for it, but it is (was) still a valuable pot. Instead of tossing it, I took it as an opportunity to experiment with repairing ceramics. My goal is to make it usable which, in my climate, means it will need to stand up to constant moisture and freeze-thaw cycles. I love this style of pot and actually have the identical one in a smaller size, but it doesn’t have nearly as nice patina as this broken one.

You might be interested in the excellent articles and videos that Lakeside Pottery has on repairing ceramics. Some really great tips in there.


Broken Keizan pot, 16.5″ x 12.5″ x 4″

After asking around and doing some research, the general consensus seems to be that epoxy is the best adhesive for repairing broken ceramics. I purchased some water-resistant marine epoxy for the job. An experienced potter and bonsai artist warned that epoxy will degrade after constant exposure to moisture, but more on how I tried to address that issue later.


Water resistant two part epoxy.

After cleaning the broken pieces and doing a test fit (the order of assembly is important) I glued the pot back together in two stages. Excess epoxy that seeped out of the joints was wiped away with rubbing alcohol.


The assembly was done in two stages, with the largest piece being glued on first, then the two smaller pieces the next day. The missing chips had been ground to dust during transit, so those areas were filled in with epoxy.

The goal was of course to get perfectly flush joints, but I found that  the quality of the joints decreased as more pieces were added. This is because as more pieces went in, the space taken up by the epoxy became incresaingly significant. This problem was magnified by the fact that there were so many joints. Removing some ceramic material from the joining surfaces might be a solution but could affect the final fit.


One of the better joints.

I blended brown and grey acrylic paints to try and match the pot colour. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect since the patina on the old pot results in a gradient of colours. But it was an improvement on the glaring white epoxy. Many of you have probably heard of the approach of highlighting ceramic repairs with gold (kintsugi). I love this look but think it is most suitable for chips, single-line breaks, and older more valuable pots. The break on this pot is more of a “why didn’t you just throw it away?” kind of break.

Most damaged side of the pot, after touch up painting.

Most damaged side of the pot, after touch up painting.

To try and prolong the life of this repaired pot, the final step was to apply a heavy bead of waterproof marine grade silicone over the inside joints. The idea is that if I can waterproof the epoxy line that sees the most moisture, I may be able to keep it together longer (since I was warned that expoxy . Yes it looks ugly, but my goal is to make this pot usable and the inside of course will not be seen when the pot is in use.

Inside after applying silicone.

Inside after applying silicone.

Fortunately the pot still has an undamaged front which is presentable. Time will tell how well this repair will stand up to the elements. If you live in a cold weather climate and have tried a repair like this, I would really like to hear your experience.





New Old Keizan Pot

I recently got this Keizan pot from Matt Ouwinga of Kaede Bonsai-en, Chicago. I’m not sure exactly how old it is but the patina definitely suggests a few decades of heavy use. I’m not a hardcore pot collector therefore the chip in one of the feet doesn’t bother me much. As far as I’m concerned, it made the pot a bit more affordable. While I didn’t buy this pot for a specific tree, it is extremely versatile and I’m sure I won’t have a problem pairing a tree with it, mostly likely a Thuja.

I have Peter Tea to thank (blame?) for getting me into aged pots. Before I went to Aichi-en I had never really seen old pots in person but once I got my hands on some I was hooked. While I can’t necessarily afford the higher end antique Chinese pots, I have come to appreciate the subdued look of a heavily used pot over a brand new one.

I think it is important to recognize that in order to continue to raise the level of bonsai display in North America, we not only need better trees but better pots as well. Peter Tea and Matt Ouwinga are each a driving force in bringing old Chinese and Japanese pots into North America, and I am grateful for that. My wallet, on the other hand, is perhaps not so enthusiastic.

Apparently this is “Post Your Keizan Pot Week”. Jonas at Bonsai Tonight also posted a beautiful Keizan pot earlier today, which motivated me to post mine.

    13.5" x 10" x 3.75"

13.5″ x 10″ x 3.75″ with chip

The patina is probably the most valuable aspect of this pot.

The patina is probably the most valuable aspect of this pot.

Keizan branded pots are made in the Tokoname region by Shizuo Hisada.

Keizan branded pots are made in the Tokoname region by Shizuo Hisada.

Ginkgo is Early… Time to Repot

Today is March 12th, and my Ginkgo is already showing green buds. This means it is the ideal time to repot. This is more than one month earlier than I am accustomed to seeing movement on this tree.

The last time I repotted this tree was in 2010, and it was not until April 17th that the buds were starting to move! This seems to be the same throughout the bonsai community… a warm winter means early spring.

I am happy spring is here, but I am always concerned about taking my trees out of winter storage, then having to shuffle them around again when it becomes -15C in April đŸ™‚

The ground is already thawed so I pulled out my ginkgo and brought it to a Toronto Bonsai Society meeting.

Normally I don't see this sort of action on this tree until mid-late April!

This is the new pot, which I got on a recent trip to Japan. It is probably 20-30 years old, based on the patina that is starting to develop. The shiny blue glaze has begun to relax into a complex, matte colour which I absolutely love.

The pot has no stamp on it. Nevertheless, it is a very high quality pot... heavy, but with thin walls. It will have no problem standing up to Canadian winters.

The tips of the shoots are just turning green, and the tips of the roots are just turning white. This tells me its a good time to repot.

All done! I think the new pot is a very nice fit. The old one was great too, and I was happy with it for 3 years. But I think its time for a change. This pot will really make the fall colours pop (unlike the last one) and is also suitable for the winter image. Can't wait for fall!


Strange Patina on an Aged Glazed Pot

Patina always makes a pot more desireable, and it is difficult to find bonsai pots with nice patina in North America. So, when I was digging for pots at Aichi-en Nursery in Nagoya this winter, I was looking for unique pots that showed some age.

This is an approximately 80 year old Japanese pot. The patina is very strange. It is not at all uniform, being much heavier on one side of the pot than the other. The patina even extends inside the pot!

How could this have happened? I discussed this with Peter Tea, and we came to the conclusion that it must have been partially buried for a long time (with no tree in it). The buried part of the pot will not develop patina nearly as well as the part that is exposed to the elements.

The pot itself is nothing special. Despite not having a stamp, we can tell it is about 80 years old because of the style and quality (or lack thereof). Early in the 20th century, Japanese potters typically put little effort into bonsai pots. After all, why should they create a masterpiece if it was just going to be filled with dirt? As a result, it “rocks” when sitting on a flat surface. The narrow width of the pot is also characteristic of the time, and makes the pot less usable and therefore less valuable today. However, I’m sure I can find a collected potentilla in my yard that will slip into this quite nicely.

Nevertheless, I was happy to pick up this pot because it was inexpensive. Most pots of this age with such mature patina are way beyond my price range.

The "waviness" of this pot is typical of hastily made Japanese pots of the time.

Glazed pots typically develop patina more slowly than unglazed pots. The complexity that patina adds to the finish makes a pot truly one of a kind, and echoes the patina carried by old bonsai.