An introduction to using Sponge Rollers in Painting

The use of “Sponge Rollers” in painting. “Secrets” series.

As my own art has developed using many different mediums in many different ways for as many different subject matters, I have also been drawn to mix my mediums. Soft pastels over acrylic inks, water with soft pastels, oils over gold leaf, oils over acrylics, oil pastels melted onto canvas with and over gold leaf, building up the surface of canvases and boards with textures, card, tissue, fillers and glues, and a melange of paints and pastels, an ensemble with sculpture and even silicone sealant. Then, the actual shapes of the canvases I paint on, from joining square and rectangular canvases into geometric shapes, to building complete unusually shaped frames and adding my own ceramics, fabrics, glass and paint!


  1. Oils over acrylics. 2. Multi medium and sculpture ensemble. 3. Oil pastels over gold leaf on canvas.


  1. Pastels over acrylic inks. 2. Oils over tissue, glue, wool and acrylic inks.


1. Oils over gold leaf. 2. Acrylics over dark ground and gold leaf.


  1. Resin art – various textures painted with acrylics and resined.

 My work now, tends to be in three distinct areas. 1. The more traditional figurative work in watercolour, oils, pastels or acrylics. 2. The textural “resin art” work, evolving from big abstracts, in France, about 10 years ago, but really taking off about five years ago. These are now under contract to Castle Galleries and Washington Green. 3. Works using sponge rollers.
As these evolved, so did my need to continue exploring, and as a parallel, I began using sponge rollers as an off-shoot from the textural works. At first on beach scenes within these, then a big, new step. I used them in a large painting of a café interior; The “secrets series” was born! The idea was to keep a contemporary feel, to keep abstraction and looseness, to separate out colours, tones, planes and dimensions, mood, atmosphere and light, yet also incorporate a further dimension of “the relationships between people in the artworks” perhaps giving a whole new series of hidden meanings and feelings? As I developed this, into now three series, I also realised the potential for this tool and methods in many more subjects and have since used it in landscape, woodland, sea and beach, interiors and exteriors. I have used it mainly with acrylics, but for this article and linked films on my Youtube channel ( from which most of these stills come ) I have also explored its use with watercolour. I hope that you will agree, after seeing the films and reading this, they have so much potential?
So in this article, I will concentrate on the uses and effects I have found using sponge rollers and the work produced with them in several subjects.
I will start by showing you a varied selection of this work. All are produced using a sponge roller and brushes.

Next I will show you a little about what images I use and how?

I prefer to use my own photographs and adjust and play with them digitally taking the creative stage further, before starting. I refer now to advice by a well-known professional artist and friend who states that you do not need to worry about using other people’s images in your paintings legally, that is a fallacy. Providing you do not reproduce their exact photo as soon as you turn it into an artwork the image is yours. Here is a sheet, using my own photos, and such progress.

The bottom two shots are the demonstration I do for you in the acrylic version of these films.

OK, let us now look at what tools and materials we will use?

This method suits a larger canvas when using the larger rollers, but the smaller roller supplied by the S.A.A. ( these are no longer available via the S.A.A. , nor are they stocking these or any others in the future ) does work well on smaller canvases and watercolour paper. I am using a 40” x 29” canvas. As I tend to use a lot of paint, I mostly buy larger pots. I use many brushes for watercolour but find I need far fewer for acrylics and oils, using mainly long handled sets of filberts and rounds. I show the brushes in depth during the films and also take watercolour brushes much further.
The rollers can be purchased from ebay and various online sellers, but the smaller ones can no longer, from the S.A.A. Do look carefully at different prices as exactly the same articles are being offered at double the price from different vendors! You can buy the trays to mix and roll paint in from cheap do-it- yourself shops in the decorating sections, or even use baking trays. The rollers I mainly use are 25mm,but I do like the smaller ones, especially for watercolour. You can buy all sorts of patterns of the larger ones. You will, hopefully, be aware of making your own stay wet palettes to keep your acrylics paint in? ( Remember you can actually freeze unused oil paints on a palette: I suggest firstly covering them in clingfilm.) For this, use a reasonably deep and large sandwich box, a layer of wet paper towels and a final top layer of greaseproof or tracing paper. The paints last a long time this way.

I use my larger brush to mix the colours and then roll the paint out of the brush, using the roller, across the mixing surface. I will have already drawn out my composition and my first film in this demonstration shows how. Remember, unless you are very good, a bad drawing will look worse painted loosely as the faults will be enhanced. You ONLY need to draw the basic shapes using my “jigsaw method” but they must be as correct as possible. We will then apply colours, usually from mid-tones outwards to lights and darks, finishing with white or black.
My way of working in most mediums? “If you start loose you can finish as tight as you wish, you cannot easily do so the other way around? Place the right colours in the right shapes in the right places correctly relevant one to another and your painting, however complicated, will simply appear” It works! Watch me do it in all mediums?

It is amazing just what such a seemingly clumsy tool will do, and the lovely effects you may attain! I demonstrate using a piece of card I have primed with black acrylic paint. Glazing, textures, lines, shapes such as leaf shapes, dry brush effects may be achieved, plus  ghosting (a term I have invented in the uses I show you) and impasto ( see the white on the woman’s dress previously? ) I have done entire artworks using just the rollers but usually tidy up at the end with the brushes, often working back and forth between. I usually work, when doing these subjects, on a white ground, but you can see that it would work well on dark grounds by the demonstration on the black card?
You do not have to keep washing out the roller providing you are using the preceding colour within your next mix or you are working to a darker colour.
That gives the basics using acrylics: now let us move onto watercolour with sponge roller work incorporated?

This sheet shows a few of the stills from the 4th film for this purpose. You will note the simplified drawing, as it is almost like painting by numbers at first. (Jigsaw pieces.)
Then I show you various watercolour brushes and how to use them, finally coming to the smaller sponge roller. In the future, I will play with this far more and see how many stylised objects and effects can be produced. I am certain that you will immediately do so and have great fun in any water based mediums including inks! I fear that oils are a “no go” as suspect they will clog up a roller let alone be hard to clean out!

Above you see my plethora of brushes for watercolour and different effects which I do not have such a need for with acrylics. I gain my effects in other ways. Having drawn out the composition, in the same way as before, I started using an oval mop and paint ‘wet in wet’ loosely, to gain an effect of background light, gradually working to smaller brushes; the normal method. Once my background and middle distance were done I worked in darks with a larger brush plus dark texture from mid-tones to darkest, with the roller; in particular, the trees, his shirt, walls and big windows.

Finally let us look at mounting and just how doing so, like framing, can wreck or make a painting?
By adding and changing inner and outer colours, you can bring out the colours that you wish in your artwork – or destroy them! So do choose carefully. I have films on my Youtube site showing you how to cut and mount your own work. Also how to colour tint and make your own frames.

All that I briefly discuss here is shown in depth on my Youtube site, with over 500 other films on many other subjects and ways of working. Simply seek artistwriter there or use these links to each of the films below.

  1.  Drawing


  1. Acrylics methods, materials & works I have produced this way.
  2. The final acrylic painting
  3. The watercolour

My own website is




All images copyright © Peter Wood