Thursday, September 24

How to Use Sponges and Foam Brushes

Today’s Image
The Humble Sponge

Here’s something you don’t normally think of when you think about painting—sponges. Yes, you read it right—sponges.

I was using one this morning. They’re not just for kitchen and cleaning duty or making crafts. They are one of the ordinary tools that artists can use to create and re-create all kinds of looks in their artwork.

Like what, you ask? Okay, well, for one thing, there are different kinds of sponges that you can use. Bet you hadn’t really given that a thought. But there are, and they’re useful in painting, especially for watercolor and even acrylics. There are sponges made of synthetic or organic material, such as foam or wool.

Then there are sea sponges. That’s the kind you see in surf-and-shell shops in touristy coastal communities (and, oh yes, art supply stores). Not to get all National Geographic or anything, but this type of sponge was once a living creature. No, really, I’m not making this up. Sea sponges live in the ocean, but when they pass on, what’s left is their skeleton(s). It’s similar to coral but much softer, of course, and the ultimate in re-cycling.

Sponges come in different sizes, and you can cut them into whatever size you need. You use them like a brush, sort of, to paint with and spread out the paint to create different effects. They impart an interesting texture to your paper or canvas that adds interest if you’re into that sort of art. Or you can use them to daub on paint or water for a stippling effect.

Let me be clear about what I’m calling a sponge. I call any implement or utensil that is made to absorb liquid a sponge. However, I see that the sponge I’m getting ready to tell you about is actually called a foam brush, which, to me, sounds like something they would use in a California carwash.

These are the ones you see in art supply stores and even at paint stores that sell house paint. They come in different widths and sizes, and they’re attached to a handle like a popsicle. I don't know what the difference is, if any, between these and sponges; however, right there on the handle it says 'foam brush.' So there.

I use foam brushes like regular brushes for two purposes, both for watercolor. First, I use them to apply washes especially for large areas that you need to cover quickly with water or paint. You can use whatever width you need to cover the surface in just a few long sweeps. That’s the key--be quick; the faster you paint with the fewest strokes, the smoother the paint goes on without leaving those pesky streak marks.

One note of caution—get the foam brushes with denser foam. They cost slightly more, but the foam is more compacted with almost no visible holes. You can control the amount of water much better than the cheaper ones that are not as dense. Believe me.

Second, I use foam brushes when I need to flatten out finished watercolors. If you’re a watercolorist, you already know this, but the paper curls up as you paint with watercolor. To flatten out the paper for framing, you need to dampen the back (that’s the BACK not the front) of your painting and place it between two other sheets of watercolor paper. Then put the heaviest thing you have around on top, and shortly your watercolor will be as flat as the proverbial pancake.

Sponges and foam brushes are another tool to use in your art toolbox to create your own unique art.


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