Thursday, September 2, 2010

NAIL ART TUTORIAL:How to Do a Sponged Gradient

So you want to do a gradient on your nails, but you're not quite sure how to go about it. I've heard people say it's intimidating, they're worried the polish will dry or they'll mess it up. They're afraid they won't have the skills required to do it correctly, or that something bad will happen. Well, let me tell you this- it won't.

There's a very important fact to keep in mind- it's only nail polish. As long as you make a few preparations, the worst you'll have to deal with is cleaning the polish off your fingers. It comes off. It's really ok! The next time you try, it'll go a little better, and before you know it you'll be doing gradients with the best of them!

Supplies needed:
  • base coat
  • polishes (2 minimum)
  • top coat
  • a makeup sponge or two
  • nail polish remover or acetone
  • cotton buds or a brush
  • cotton balls or rounds
Optional Supplies:
  • newspaper (to protect surfaces)
  • petroleum jelly (for easier cleanup)
  • scissors (to cut sponge)
  • a pantyliner (for sponge cleaning)

When you choose your polishes for a gradient, it helps to pick colors that are analogous, or next to each other on the color wheel. If you try to blend colors that are too far apart, they tend to look muddy. This is an entire lesson on its own, and I can go into that later if you're interested. For now, just remember to look for colors that blend into each other. I'm using red, orange, and yellow. You can see they're next to each other on the color wheel.

If you were to try to make gradient from colors across from each other on the color wheel, like blue and orange, they would make a muddy grey/brown in the center where they meet. It's not terribly pretty, although understanding the color wheel can come in very handy when you're mixing your own colors! But for now, back to gradients!

The first thing I would suggest is to put down a layer of newspaper on the surface you're going to be working on. You're working with lots of polishes and sponges and things, and if you're anything like me it's safest to put something down between you and your antique coffee table. Nail polish on furniture can be bad, but nail polish remover on furniture is even worse! Then make sure you've got everything you'll need for a while, because this can take a bit of time. Grab a soda or a bottle of water, the phone, the TV remote- whatever you need so that you don't have to go digging for it with wet nails. Also, visit the restroom- wet nails are not compatible with potty breaks!

Now, you need to prep your nails. I've been experimenting with using petroleum jelly on my cuticles and the skin around my nails, just to make cleanup a bit easier. I'm not sure if it helps, but it can't hurt, right?

You'll also want to wipe your nails down with nail polish remover on a cotton ball or round. This helps remove oils and things that can make your polish come off, and helps dry out your nail so that your base coat can really adhere. Then you need to apply 2-3 coats of your base color, depending on how much coverage you want.

Before you start stamping, it helps to decide where you want your polishes to be on your nail.
I'm basically using yellow, orange and red for this gradient, but I also have two pinks I want to use for sparkle and easing the gradient. (Pink + yellow = orange too!) So, looking at my nail, I decided I wanted to put the pale pink down over most of my nail, then put the orange polish over about half of my nail, and put the red just on the tip of my nail.

You can draw it out if it helps you, or you can just eyeball it and estimate in your mind. Either way, it does help to get an idea of just where you want each color to start and end. If you use fewer colors, you'll have larger sections, and vice versa. Remember- it's all up to you, and you really can do whatever you want. There are no hard and fast rules!

Before I started sponging, I decided to cut my sponges down so I'd have more control. You can make them as large or small as you like- mine ended up around the size of a pencil eraser. It would cover a little over half my nail.

Loading the sponge is easy. You simply paint on the polish, just like painting your nail! However, I found that for the yellow and orange, it helped to paint them both onto the sponge like in the photo to the right. This helped the colors blend a bit more, and made a much smoother gradient. You don't have to do this, but it's an option.

To sponge the color on, you simply put the sponge over where you want the color to be, then pat it onto the nail. You don't need a lot of pressure... just pat pat pat the color onto the nail. It will build up fast enough, and you'll still have a bit of control over it. Yes, this will get all over your fingers. That's why we have the polish remover, so we can clean up afterwards.

Then it's simply a process of patting the color where you want it. You can see how it progressed for me. The camera really struggled to pick up the contrast between the red and the orange. I probably should have chosen different colors, but hey... you live and learn, right? I still think it turned out cute!

If you find that your red has gone up too far, just put some orange back onto the sponge and pat it over the red. You can really make a smooth gradient if you take your time with this. Just try to be patient, and work with it. Small pats of color really give you more control over the gradient.

You may end up feeling like you've got too much polish in the sponge. I know I did! This is when that pantyliner comes in handy. Just firmly press the sponge into the pantyliner a couple of times and it'll be clean enough to use with another color. It will be discolored, but it won't affect your polish as long as you're working from light to dark. I even used it with yellow after this and it was fine!

And finally, after patpatpating your nails until you're probably ready to beatbeatbeat your head into the wall, you'll end up with nails that look like this. If you're like me, you'll be too tired to consider cleanup, throw some quickdry on top and call it a night. But the better thing to do would be to grab those cotton buds and wipe away the stray polish on your fingers with some nail polish remover. That shouldn't take too long, and then you'll have an adorable gradient manicure. It looks great on its own, or you can do nail art on top of it! You could mask off part of the nail and do a partial gradient. Flower stickers would look good on this, as would stripes or dots or... well, lots of things! It's all up to you...

I hope this helps. It's less tutorial and more of high points, but I couldn't really figure out how to write "pat pat pat the orange down. Then pat pat pat some red on top of the orange. If it's too much red, pat pat pat some orange on top." I think you guys can figure that part out on your own! :D

I hope this gives you the courage to try it. Remember, it's just nail polish, and you can always fix it if it's awful. If you do decide to do it, take a picture, I'd love to see it!

Til next time!
     <3 Laynie


  1. Oooh, this is actually really helpful! I'm going to try this again tomorrow and see how it comes out.

  2. Nice post! I never tried this before but when I do I will be coming back here for directions. Love how it turned out. Glad I found your blog!

  3. Totally trying this out!
    I always have problems gradienting :c

  4. Nicole- I'm so glad! As I got into it, I found it was less step-by-step, and more concept. Hopefully it'll help, though. This applies to whether you use 2 colors or 5!

    Gina- Aww, I'm glad you found it too! I love yours!

    AnnKiins- I hope it works well for you! This doesn't make it completely mistake-proof, but it hopefully should help a lot!

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  10. Awesome tutorial, I am going to try this tonight! I've been looking at the nail art page for a couple of weeks and FINALLY, I have found something that looks real easy, or sounds easy anyway...I will try to post some pics when I get done with this project. Happy days are here again!


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