Sponges are like socks: We take them for granted until we discover the perfect set, and then we can’t imagine life without them. For painting, sponges create a wide range of effects, marks, and gestures. For drawing, they are excellent for smudging and blending chalk pastels and charcoal. Ceramic artists depend on them to control the amount of water in their clay and to smooth out rough areas. Sponges are also essential for cleanup. Whether you like the textural variety of natural sea sponges or the consistency and durability of synthetic ones, you should have a set of sponges in your studio. Here are our favorites.
1. Lullingworth Natural Sea and Synthetic Sponges
Calling all painters: If texture is what you’re after, this is the sponge kit for you, just the thing for a wide range of artistic effects. Each one of the all-natural sea sponges offers a different shape and grain. There is one jumbo sponge measuring about 4.5 inches, another two at 3 inches, two more at 2.5 inches, and one that measures 2 inches; there is also a round synthetic sponge that measures 2.75 inches. The natural sponges are responsibly harvested from renewable resources and 100 percent biodegradable. They’re great for decorative painting, ceramics, staining, and watercolor techniques, and they clean up easily with soap and water.
2. PanPastel Sofft Art Sponges
Micropore technology is the hallmark of PanPastel’s Sofft art sponges. While formulated for use with the company’s line of pastels, they work well with all brands of chalk pastel, as well as watercolors, ceramics, and charcoal. They also function nicely as alternatives to paintbrushes to achieve fine details and block in areas of color with watercolors or acrylics. They hold the right amount of ink or paint to make stenciling a dream too. The small, fine-textured sponges are made of high-density polyurethane foam and come in a set of four shapes (wedge, point, round, and flat) to ensure a full range of mark making and blending effects.
3. Hygloss Sponge ’Ums
If you’re looking for sponges for children’s projects, consider this four-piece set for printmaking. The sponges are packaged as compressed sheets made of long-lasting cellulose, which are easy to cut into any shape you like. Once you have your shapes, simply add water—the sheet will expand to take on the depth of a normal sponge that kids can dip in paint and use to stamp images on paper or fabric.
4. Royal & Langnickel Elephant Ear Sponge
This natural sponge is ideal for ceramics, as it has a smooth surface and very little texture. The sponge (named for its shape) measures about 3 inches in diameter with a slightly curved contour that makes it comfortable in your hand and easy to maneuver, whether on a wheel or tabletop. The sponge itself is a bit stiff, though that is to be expected from a natural material.
5. MudTools MudSponge
This sponge set provides potters with a trio of synthetic sponges that are great for a variety of uses. The extremely absorbent sponges are shaped like a kidney pottery rib, comfortable to hold in the palm of your hand. One sponge is thin and flexible, another slightly more rigid with fewer pores than the first, and the third is smooth with no pores to speak of. Though they are synthetic, they are crafted of an environmentally friendly and durable material. They arrive compressed, so you must fully saturate them to see their full form.