Art Blog

A Fool-Proof Guide to Painting 2 Types of Watercolor Cactuses

These little prickly plants are everywhere, and not just as actual potted plants. Cacti are quite popular on textiles and home decor, too. Now you can learn how to paint a watercolor cactus to decorate your home!

Learn to paint two styles of watercolor cactus with this free tutorial!

There are several different methods for painting a cactus. You can go totally realistic, abstract or somewhere in between. In this post, I’ll show you how to paint two different types of cactuses in two different semi-abstract styles.

Materials you’ll need for both paintings:

How to paint a saguaro cactus in watercolor

Step 1: Draw an outline of the cactus shape

Looking at a picture of a saguaro cactus, lightly draw outlines in pencil on a piece of watercolor paper. You may want to layer several cactuses so that cactuses are in behind others, giving your composition more interest. I chose to draw three tall saguaro cactuses, with two in front and one behind.

Step 2: Apply a light wash of watercolor

Using a medium round brush, apply a very light wash with watercolor paints. It’s OK if you leave a little white space here and there. I painted each of my three saguaro cactuses different shades of green to create some interest. Let this first layer of paint dry slightly. Then apply a second layer of paint over the shadows and darker spots of the cactuses.

Paint a watercolor cactus in varying shades and layers of green paint

Step 3: Add the shadows to create depth

Switch to a smaller round brush. Apply another darker layer of paint to create more depth and accentuate the shadows. Take note of where the light source is coming from and where the highlights and shadows lie. This will help you get the shading in the right spots, but you don’t have to be super accurate with this — it’s not going to be a completely realistic painting. You just want to create some depth by adding shadows. Let dry.

Use a small brush to add fine details in your watercolor cactus painting

Step 4: Paint the grooves in the cactus

Paint vertical lines and grooves on the cactuses. Starting from the top of each cactus, paint vertical lines down. Make the lines darker on the parts of the cacti that are in shadow and make the lines lighter on the parts that are in the light.

Step 5: Paint the cactus blossoms

Add pink and orange cactus blossoms to the tops of the cacti. Create floral shapes by placing your brush at the top the part of the cactus and working small short strokes upward in a cluster. Remember to keep the blossoms on the cactus in the background lighter than the blossoms on the cactuses in the foreground.

One cactus painting finished! One more to go…

You can paint a watercolor cactus! Learn how with this simple tutorial.

How to paint a prickly pear cactus in watercolor

Step 1: Create the cactus shape by painting ovals

Find a picture of a prickly pear cactus to use as a reference. With a medium round brush, begin from the bottom of your paper and paint oval shapes in clusters as shown below. Vary the shapes and sizes of the oval clusters. 

To add depth to your painting, paint lighter colored cactuses in the background and darker colored cactuses in the front. This gives your painting some perspective.  

Keep the paint wet as you work so that you don’t end up with hard edges between the different sections of prickly pears. You can also vary the shades of green as you go.

Paint about three-quarters of the way up the page. Leave the top section blank.

Paint prickly pear cactuses by layering green watercolor ovals.

Step 2: Add the prickly details

Now it’s time to add some prickly pear fruits to the cactuses! Using some reds, yellows, oranges and pinks, paint small oval-shaped fruits on the tops of the cactuses. Use a smaller brush for this step.

Remember to paint the fruit in the background lighter than the fruit in the foreground.

Make your prickly pear cactus painting realistic with details.A beautiful prickly pear watercolor cactus painting (get the tutorial!)

Let dry and you are finished. Now you have two different kinds of watercolor cactus paintings to frame and hang up at home.

Discover two ways to create watercolor cactus paintings to hang in your home.

Looking for more ways to paint cactus? Try a wax resist technique with crayons and watercolor paints or try your hand at paint by numbers coloring page.

watercolor seascape painting

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Looks gorgeous, always wished that I could paint but am useless at drawing!


Simple but really practical.


as a beginner, thank you so much for the tutorial! do you have anything for palette knife work? I really like James Dick’s style:

I never get the light like he does.

Elise Engh

I’m glad you found the tutorial helpful Jim! I mostly do watercolors and don’t use a palette knife too often. There are other acrylic painting and tutorials on the craftsy art blog that may be more of what you are looking for.


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