How to Sponge Paint
ON the Walls

This tutorial will teach you how to sponge paint on (a.k.a. the positive/additive sponging method, where you dab glaze or paint over the base coat with a sponge)...

Paint sponging on is a fast technique, because the paint dries quickly and if needed, the second coat can usually be applied as soon as you have finished the first (if you start in the same place).

It is also relatively easy, and the result can be either subtle or dramatic, depending on the hue and number of colors you apply.


sponge paint finish colors

It's important that the paint colors you choose for sponge painting contrast enough to produce a visible finish, but not as much as to look garish. The emphasis should be on the subtle tonal variations, so the colors that are 2-3 shades lighter or darker than your base coat are usually your best bet.

And in order to make sure your colors will complement each other (and won't look dated), pick them from the same color family, or even from the same color strip (for example, a burgundy red sponging finish on a salmon background, or a gold yellow sponged over cream yellow).


metallic sponge paint finish

Unlike most other decorative wall painting techniques, sponging on does not require a satin base coat (although it's easier to correct mistakes on) - so you can just as easily sponge over a flat finish paint without any problems. In fact, anything glossier than satin as the base coat finish is not desirable, as it may be too slippery.

The only thing to keep in mind is that using the same sheen in the base coat as in the overlay sponged colors will provide a more subtle effect. Using two different sheens will add depth to the finish.


mixing glaze for sponge painting

The most popular basic sponging recipes are: 2 parts latex paint + 1 part water (this is the easiest mixture to start experimenting with for beginners), and 1 part latex paint + 1 part water (this mix might feel too runny for newbies).

For a softer, semi-transparent layer of color, mix 1 part latex paint + 1 part water + 1 part clear glazing liquid. The glaze in the mixture will add more depth and luminance to the paint sponge finish.

How to Sponge Paint On
- the basic technique -

NOTE: The instructions below assume that you've already applied your base coat in the desired color, let it dry for at least 24 hours, and masked the walls, ceiling and woodwork adjacent to where you'll work.

Also, before beginning, see "Tips for Sponge Painting Walls" for more guidance.

Tools and Materials

sponge paint tools and materials

  • natural sea sponge
  • clean rags
  • paper plates
  • old newspapers
  • paint bucket
  • bucket of water
  • stir sticks
  • rubber gloves
  • measuring cup
  • latex paint
  • clear glazing liquid (optional)


sponge paint application

1) Using a measuring cup, mix paint, water and glaze as indicated in the recipes above (use a paint bucket and stir thoroughly). Pour some of the mixture onto a paper plate.

Moisten the sea sponge in a bucket of clean water and wring it out, so that it's damp, not dripping.

2) Wearing rubber gloves, dip the flat side of the sponge into the paint mixture on the paper plate, coating that side evenly. Blot off the excess paint on the old newpapers.

3) Starting in an upper corner (or other logical starting point), dab the sponge on the wall lightly. Space the dabs approximately 3" apart in a random pattern. Gradually fill in the spaces until the surface is evenly covered.

evaluate your sponge paint finish regularly

Work in 3'x3' areas, using quick movements of your wrist (lift your hand, rotate your wrist, slightly reposition your arm, then pounce the wall lightly again).

Leave the leading edge of the section irregular so that you can join the adjacent section.

4) After you sponge on a 3'x3' area, step back and evaluate the overall texture and consistency of your sponging. You should not be able to see where one impression leaves off and another begins.

For areas where too much base coat color shows through, dab on some more paint.

sponge paint finish

Repeat steps 2 through 4 until you cover the entire working surface.

5) To complete corners, tear off a small piece of sponge (2" in diameter), lightly load it with the paint/glaze mixture and carefully dab it in the corners and tight areas.

Voila! You've just completed your very first sponge paint finish! Now clean up the tools and messes, wait for the paint to dry, remove the masking tape and enjoy your work!

Paint Color Cheat Sheets
Paint Color Cheat Sheets

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