Learn How to Sponge – Watercolor Painting – Fast and Easy

Natural sponge for watercolor painting from watercolor tutorial by artist and teacher Deb Watson

Sponging with watercolor is fast, effective and easy to learn, but there are lots of unique ways to use sponging. Here are MANY easy ways to use a sponge for watercolor painting that aren’t widely known.

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General Tips for Sponging Technique for Watercolor Painting

Best Type of Sponge and Other Materials You Can Use

Natural Sponge has exactly what you need for sponging. The best types have spikey frons and are stiff enough to keep their shape as you sponge the watercolor paint on.

A small piece of sponge is best. Sponges soak up a LOT or liquid, and even a very small piece will hold enough paint for sponging.

No Sponge? Try Stippling Brushes and/or Toothbrushes

Original watercolor painting of trees with salt effects, done for a fund raiser by award winning watercolor artist and teacher, Deb Watson

You can buy stippling brushes in most craft stores, or make your own by cutting up an old acrylic brush as seen in the video below.

Even an old toothbrush (the stiffer, the better) can be dipped in paint and dab the top end on your paper for a sponge-like effect. Experiment with dabbing and pulling for great pine trees.

Even Try Wadded up Plastic Wrap for Watercolor Painting Effects

Wad up a piece of plastic wrap (the kind you use for food storage in the kitchen). Dip the wad in paint and press on your paper. This creates a bigger texture pattern than a small sponge, but it works well for larger paintings, for trees, texture on distant hills, etc. Just use your imagination.

Technique #1 – Sponging Watercolor for Great Tree Painting

Sponging trees in watercolor painting is the most common sponged subject. Start with your lighter colors and add darker shadow colors as you sponge.

Sponging flowers in watercolor also works well – videos coming soon, but check the easy flower lesson in sponging with masking below.

Technique #2 – Sponging With Masking

Sponging masking on, dry, then paint around the sponging. This will give you very different and unique effects in watercolor painting. You can mask white paper or you can apply a wash of color to the area, dry well, then mask to save that color.

(Caution: DO NOT apply masking to damp paper – it will never come off!)

Using masking with sponging for watercolor flowers from a watercolor tutorial by artist and teacher Deb Watson
  • Wet your sponge and squeeze out all the water
  • Dip the sponge in liquid masking
  • Press the sponge on your paper, just like when you apply paint
  • Be sure to rinse the masking out or your sponge well, or it will ruin that piece.
  • Dry the masking, then paint around or over it.
  • Lift off the masking to reveal the effect.

Masking/Sponging for Easy White Flowers

The Queen Anne’s Lace Flowers on the right were done with masking applied on white paper. Then add a colored wash, dry and remove masking for a beautiful card or painting. Add stems. Masking makes a complex flower quick and easy!

Below are three student paintings. Some students used masking to save the white, some dabbed white on with a brush.

The darker the background color, the whiter your flowers will look!

Masking/Sponging for Unique Watercolor Trees

Using masking with sponging for watercolor trees from a watercolor tutorial by artist and teacher Deb Watson

For more realistic looking trees, paint the lighter color, dry well. Mask where the lighter color goes, then paint the shadow color on. The shadow color will fill in behind the lighter color for a very realistic look.

In the rainy day lesson, the yellow was masked out by sponging.

Technique #3 – Sponging With White Paint

Original watercolor painting of covered bridge in snow with sponged snowy trees by artist and teacher Deb Watson

How to paint beautiful snow covered trees in watercolor?

Paint a medium value background color, then sponge with opaque white. Add suggestions of white trunks for finishing.

Summary for Sponging Watercolor Painting Technique

Sponging is a fast, easy and effective watercolor technique that produces beautiful results in cards and paintings. And you can use your sponge for other watercolor tasks, too, like wetting your paper.

You’re only limited by your imagination in the ways you can use the sponging technique. Combine these different methods for paintings that your friends and family will rave about! Sponge masking and trees in the same painting for a really nice effect. Happy Painting!

Original watercolor painting from tutorial by artist and teacher Deb Watson showing sponged trees and flowers.
White flowers with sponged masking. Trees sponged on.

Painting is just another way of keeping a diary - Pablo Picasso.