What is Wabi-Sabi? Exploring the perfectly imperfect.

Updated: May 31, 2019

What is wabi sabi?

Wabi sabi is a term you may have heard in recent times, but you can easily be forgiven for not knowing what it means. That’s because this Japanese term has no direct equivalent in Western languages. Still, we think it’s worth wrapping your head around, because wabi sabi can change how you see the world, and even help to free up your creativity!

Wabi sabi is an ancient Japanese world view that celebrates the beauty of all things impermanent, imperfect, rustic and melancholy. It encourages respect for what is passing, fragile, broken and modest, and the belief that things are more beautiful for bearing marks of age or individuality.

Originally, the word wabi meant the misery and loneliness of living in nature, away from human civilisation, and sabi meant chill, ageing or withered. But around the 14th century, these meanings began to shift and take on more positive connotations. Wabi began to suggest rustic simplicity, and the bittersweet melancholy of being on one’s own. Sabi came to refer to the beauty or serenity that comes with the passing of time, such as the patina that marks an object as it ages.

Wabi sabi in art

In aesthetic terms, the characteristics of wabi sabi include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, austerity and modesty. A trickle of glaze or a crack in a ceramic are to be appreciated, rather than seen as flaws, and signs of ageing and impermanence considered to be noble and beautiful. We see examples of wabi sabi in many Japanese art forms, including the rituals of the Japanese tea ceremony, ikebana (flower arranging), Japanese zen gardens and bonsai. The art of kintsugi, in which cracks in pottery are filled with gold dusted lacquer, is a beautiful example of wabi sabi values. The cracks are highlighted to show the beauty of the object’s age, rather than hide it.

Explore wabi sabi at Opendrawer

Opendrawer founder Robyn Steel-Stickland likes that wabi sabi encourages you to look for the perfection in imperfection, and was inspired to create a class based on wabi sabi principles after exploring them in her own art practice.

"That made my heart sing a bit, because some of the things I brought to the class were close to my heart. So there was a bit of a change in my mindset about things that are worn out or well-loved.”

“The class explores the idea that things come from the earth and are going back to the earth. It’s about natural materials, and realising that just because things have a crack in them or signs of wear, they do not lose their value as items of beauty and usefulness,” said Robyn.

The idea is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I ask the students to bring an object that is important to them, but showing signs of wear. It could be anything. Your favourite jumper for example. In the class, we also utilise natural materials, such as rust. We create marks from rusted objects, and make something beautiful from the bits and pieces that we play with in class, bringing everything together in our own personalised, handmade book.”

When Taff Richardson took Robyn’s Wabi Sabi class, and it gave her a fresh perspective.

“The idea of taking something that I thought was worn out and probably shouldn’t keep any more, and looking at it through a wabi sabi lens made me give more value to it. And that made my heart sing a bit, because some of the things I brought to the class were close to my heart. So there was a bit of a change in my mindset about things that are worn out or well-loved.”

Wabi sabi can create a shift in perspective, not just in your life, but in your creative practice, by removing the need to strive for perfection, and encouraging you to appreciate things for what they are, and what they will evolve into, no matter how imperfect. And that sounds just about perfect to us!

If you’d like to explore wabi sabi yourself, you can sign up for Robyn’s Wabi Sabi class on July 14. Click here: to find out more and book now:

Tel: 03 98897227

Rear 248 Highfield Rd, Camberwell 3124

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