Simple Watercolor Cactus

Hey everybody. Today we are taking a break from my usual acrylic painting, and I am going to teach a little watercolor cactus painting.

Watercolor painting is slightly different from acrylic because you build layers to get shadowing and depth and use minimal layers to get highlights. White watercolor paint doesn’t really have the opacity to cover, so you can’t just add white like we do with acrylics.

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Watercolor Cactus Tutorial The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

It can be a little tricky at first if you’re not used to working with watercolor paint, but I will walk you through it today with this fun watercolor cactus painting!

Last year, I painted this Cactus painting with my membership group, Christie’s Inner Tribe. I painted it in acrylics but I really wanted to continue painting more!

Cactus Trio Acrylic Painting by Christie Hawkins

I have a lot of my full-length, video painting tutorials available, including The Cactus Trio, in my shop!

Between those and some cute succulent mailers I recently ordered, I’d say I have been inspired. It’s always nice to have stuff like that on hand, so I can pull out a few inspiration pieces and paint when I feel creative.

If you have ever painted with me before, you know that I have a few different tricks for my watercolor paintings. I may not even use watercolor paints after all! Check out how to use acrylic paint like watercolors HERE.

I also like a sketch look. There are two ways to do this. You can start by sketching with a waterproof pen, which you’ve seen me do before HERE where I draw my design on first then paint.

Dancing Watercolor Cactus The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

But today, I want to do the opposite and watercolor free-form first. Then if you want, you may outline it with pen ink after for the sketch-look.

Color Values with Watercolor Paint

You must be wondering, “If I can’t create highlights by mixing in white paint, then how will I create depth or highlights in my watercolor painting?”

The simple answer: The more pigment you have in your brush, the more color you’re going to have. So, you will need to load up your brush with a lot of color to get deep, rich hues. In contrast, when you water the pigments down, you achieve lighter, soft colors.

I use the lid of my paints to mix water with the color in my brush to really thin it out.

Look at the picture…

Watercolor painting tutorial Cactus The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

You can see how much darker it is when I have more pigment on my brush, and in contrast, the more water I add, the lighter, more translucent the color becomes.

Painting a Watercolor Cactus

So let’s go ahead and get started with our shape.

Most Cacti shapes are pretty simple and almost impossible to mess up. All you need is a very basic shape to start, then give it an arm or two.

'Big Guy' Cacti The Social Easel

Then, start filling in the shape. Go a little darker around the edges first, then add more water in your brush, and do it a little softer in the middle.

After you have it all filled in, you can go back in with another layer where you want more shading. To add a little more depth, I pick up a lighter color of green for the inside. You don’t have to stick with one color of green.

With just a tiny bit more water, go back and forth over top of those brush strokes to blend those colors in together.

Another fun shape for cacti is to stack a few mounds on top of each other kinda catty wumpus… not straight like a snowman.

Play around with you paints. Watercolors dry pretty quickly so you will be able to add more layers and colors.


I decided to get a little pink with one of the large watercolor brushes and add a wash on a light pink background. You can do a blue sky too, but I love pink and green together!

I love watercolor because your brush strokes and variances in the value of your paint colors can show.

Cute Watercolor Cacti The Social Easel

My paint set didn’t have the right color of brown for sand. You know how much I love paint color mixing… Well, you can mix watercolor paints too. I used a mixture of brown, yellow, and a dab of orange mixed with a lot of water to get the right sandy shade to wash over, creating a desert floor.

Potted Cacti

If you want your cactus in a terracotta pot, they come in many shapes and sizes, but are simple to paint too!

Watercolor Cactus The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

I found a burgundy that will work for my pot. You could mix reds and orange to make terracotta. Like the Cacti, add dimension and make your object look curved by painting some differences in color and opacity with it darkest around the outside and lighter in the middle.

Mine is a Big guy in a little pot 🙂

Large Watercolor Cactus The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

I feel like it’s really easy to play with shading in watercolor. See how just darkening those edges changes the painting so much.

Adding the Details

Pull some vibrant pink into the painting with tiny blossoms on your cactus.

You could add thin lines or little spikes too! They’re like little V’s poking off your cactus.

Mix black or brown with your green to make it darker, and choose smaller round brushes when you need more control.

Top of Watercolor Cactus The Social Easel Online Paint Studio

I find watercolors very soothing and relaxing to paint with, and it’s fun to see what it does and the direction the art takes. We’re just playing around.

Watercolor painting is fun to do on note cards for people and makes beautiful art in your home. Another bonus to mixed media pads is that you can frame your work if you love it!

Watch Christie’s Watercolor Cactus Video Painting Tutorial!

My biggest piece of advice for you guys is not to let fear stop you from trying something new. How are you ever going to know whether you could paint or not? If you never try, right?

Art Space and Watercolor Cacti The Social Easel

Practice, doodle… and don’t be afraid to use a few pages playing with this. I can not wait for you to try painting these adorable watercolor cacti! Hope on over to my Facebook Group and share what you create!