Watercolor Cacti and Succulents: Fun & Easy Techniques to Sketch & Paint Desert Plants! | Pooja Kenjale-Umrani | Skillshare

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Watercolor Cacti and Succulents: Fun & Easy Techniques to Sketch & Paint Desert Plants!

teacher avatar Pooja Kenjale-Umrani, Watercolor Artist

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

9 Lessons (1h 16m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Supplies

    • 3. Sketching all Cacti & Succulents

    • 4. Saguaro Cactus

    • 5. Prickly Pear Cactus

    • 6. Dwarf Chin Cactus

    • 7. Sweetheart Hoya Succulent

    • 8. Snake Plant Succulent

    • 9. Conclusion and Project Ideas

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About This Class

Hi there!

I welcome you to my fifth Skillshare Class which is all about sketching and painting watercolor cacti and succulents!

In this class we will sketch and paint 3 types of cacti - Saguaro Cactus, Prickly Pear Cactus and Dwarf chin Cactus. We will also paint some fun and easy succulents like the Sweetheart Hoya and the Snake Plant. While painting each of these pieces we will mix a variety of greens and each cacti and succulent will be unique in its own way!

So are you ready to paint some fun spines, needles and thick succulent branches?

I promise you will love your cacti and succulent collection that you will paint with me in the class!

Alright then, let’s paint together!

Meet Your Teacher

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Pooja Kenjale-Umrani

Watercolor Artist


Hello there! I am Pooja.

I am (or should I say was) a software engineer by qualification and product manager by profession. But I prefer to be identified as an artist by heart. After working for several years in the IT industry it was eventually the heart that won over my soul and mind. I finally decided to quit my 9 to 5 'job' and decided to take on with a dream to do something my heart loves. What followed was a long, arduous journey that led to a beautiful outcome – By The Lakeside Art Studio. A manifestation of my passion and love for making handmade candles, the art is my attempt to blend my fondness for lights, fragrances and colors. I have made over 500 candles and hold an expertise in making paraffin and natural soy wax candles. 

As years passed by,... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hi. I'm Pooja, the artist female by the Lake Side R-Studio. I'm a watercolor artist and so based out of India. I welcome you to my fifth Skillshare class. This class is all about sketching and painting watercolor cactus and succulent. In this class, we will sketch and paint three different types of cactus, the suguaro cactus, the prickly pear and the dwarf chin cactus. We will also paint some fun that easy succulents like the sweet hot onions and the snake plant. While painting each of these cactus and succulents, we will mix a variety of shades of green and each cactus and succulent will be unique in its own way. Are you ready to paint some spines, needles and some thick succulent branches? I promise you will love your cacti and succulents collection that you will paint with me in the class. All right, then, let's paint together. 2. Supplies: For watercolor brushes, I recommend using two sizes. A medium-sized and a small size. I will be using Princeton Neptune series, Round 4 and 6 to welcome my washes and color mixing. Princeton Heritage Synthetic Sable series, Round 0 and 1 for all the detailed work. For paper, I recommend using a 100 percent cotton paper to get beautiful bleeding effect and texture for your cactus and succulents. I will be using legend StoneHenge, Aqua Cold Pressed 140 lb Block. I always recommend using professional grade water colors because it really shows the difference. Your painting will surely speak volumes if you use good quality supplies. At the same time, it is okay to practice with student grade paints till you understand your supplies. It is not necessary to have the exact same sheets or brands, but I'm listing what I use. You have a benchmark to choose the closest possible paints. Other than brushes, paper and paints, we will also need a mixing palette. You can either use a white ceramic plate or a plastic folding palette to mix your colors, a jar of clean water and tissue to dab excess water and pigment. For painting needles and spines, I will be using Dr. Ph. Martin's Bleed Proof White color. If you don't have this color, you can also use white gouache or a white gel pen. I will also be using Sakura Micron Pen size 01. I think we're all set for the class. Let's jump in and paint something cactulicious. 3. Sketching all Cacti & Succulents: To sketch the Saguaro cactus, I will be drawing cylindrical shaped arms of various heights and sizes. This cactus can grow really tall and has many arms branching out of the main trunk. We will try to draw as many arms as possible to make it look interesting. I'm also going to overlap a few arms for an added effect. This is going to be a loose style interpretation so we will try to put down on paper what creates the first impression when you look at all of these cacti and succulents. Don't worry too much about getting the sketch perfect. These are just our guidelines that will help us during the painting phase. The entire body of this cactus has noticeable ridges almost like straight lines and that, I think adds a beautiful texture to translate onto paper. I'm going to sketch some broken lines here and there to represent these ridges. Saguaro cactus has spines all over its body. I will add these details as we start building the cactus. Let's move on to the next sketch. Prickly pear cactus is quite large and can grow up to five to seven meters. The distinct feature of this cactus are the large pads or oval shaped stems that are green to blue green in color and bear quite a few spines. These pads branch out in upward direction on top of each other. I will simply draw this oval shape pads, placing them in a vertical arrangement. The idea is to get the basic shape of the cactus right during the sketching phase and then work on fine details as we start painting it. On the top I will draw bears or fruits that are pinkish purple in shade. If you notice, the spines of this cactus are quite long and pointy. They're creamish white in color. We will work on all these details when we're painting the cactus. That's pretty much how a prickly pear cactus looks like. Let's move on to the next cactus. Dwarf chin cactus is a spherical shape cactus that rarely branches out, except for flowers. To draw this cactus, we will start by drawing a flattened circle that has ridges along the surface that look like partitions. Keep these ridges slightly curved to reflect the roundness of the cactus. We will also sketch a flower on the apex portion of the cactus. I will draw simple layered petals to show a fuller blossom. Dwarf chin cactus has pinkish purplish flowers. Sometimes they're also red, orange, and white. On each of these sections are sharp needles or spines that are slightly curved inwards. You can draw a small node and then make sharp strokes coming out in outward direction to represent the needles. In real, the dwarf chin cacti are quite small, about three to five inches in height, and usually come in containers or pots. Please note that I am doing a slightly bigger and zoomed in version of this cactus when painting to be able to show all the details of the cactus. That's pretty much how a dwarf chin cactus looks like. Let's move on to the next one. Sweetheart hoya is an adorable, succulent that has heart-shaped, thick leaves and it's the simplest to draw and paint. Most of the times they come as a hardship leaf inserted in a pot but they often grow beautifully in hanging baskets. In this class we will draw a potted version of sweetheart hoya. I will be drawing one center stem coming out from a pot and then adding heart-shaped leaves of varying sizes on the main stem. We will keep the pot simple and add details while painting it. That's about it. I'm going to keep this sketch simple and add all the details while painting. Up next is the snake plant. Snake plants are one of my favorite succulent plants and they're so fun to paint. They come in a variety of shades of green color and the most common and my favorite is the one that has striking yellow borders and dark green stripes on the leaves. The leaves are long and pointy and grow very close to each other, forming a tall bush. That is exactly what we will try to sketch and add loose interpretation. We will add all the other details like the stripy texture and yellow borders on the go when we start painting it. Now that we have all the sketches ready, let's move on to the fun part, which is actually painting all of the cacti and succulents. 4. Saguaro Cactus: For the saguaro cactus, I will be using green apatite genuine from Daniel Smith. This sedimentary color is a dark, almost brown, olive green in milestone. In washes the brown settle out of vivid natural green, creating memorable texture and contrast. I really want my saguaro to have this dusty green color, and I think this color works best for this cactus. If you don't have this color, I would suggest using a shade of green that is closest to olive green with a tinge of brown. You can achieve the shade by mixing a bit of sepia or burnt umber to sap green, to reduce the brightness and get a dusty olive green color. I have made a very light pencil sketch of the saguaro similar to the one I showed earlier. Now, I will start painting the main trunk of the saguaro with a light wash of green apatite genuine. I want the source of light to be from the right hand side and hence, I will keep the wash on the right side very light. I've tried and kept my saguaro a little bumpy on the edges, just to make sure that it doesn't look like a geometric cylindrical pole that is just standing out there. I've made the edges a little bumpy and it's completely okay. There to meet these bumps and ridges on the way as you start painting it. We will now start building the layers by applying a darker value of the green color. I will apply it on the left side of the main trunk. The second layer will instantly bleed into the first layer which is already wet. To ensure that the colors bleed nicely, you will need to paint a bit faster so the layers are damp enough as you build up. If you see, the color has already started to granulate on the paper. I'm just going to apply a touch shade which is the darkest shade that I want in this saguaro. I'm really keeping it dark on the sides of the cactus to show that highlight and contrast of color and the effect of light that it will bring. At this point, I'm going to wash my brush, clean it a bit, then wash the color on both the sides. Remember to keep your brush clean and little moist while blending the colors. If your brush is too wet, you may get watery patterns on the trunk, losing that texture that we want the cactus to have. Wherever there is a branch coming out of the main trunk, I'm applying a darker color at the joint to create a shadow. I'm also making some intentional brush strokes, to get that line texture on this saguaro cactus. To make the cactus look dusty and textured, I'm mixing a bit of raw umber and applying it on the left edge of the cactus. If you remember, this is our fourth layer. Lastly, I'm taking a darker value of green apatite genuine, mixed with raw amber, and applying it as my final fifth layer. Then I'm merging all the layers together. I think the first trunk looks quite interesting now, just the way I wanted it to be. I will now proceed on to the next trunk and use the exact same steps we used earlier. While painting these branching trunks, remember to apply darker value of the color at the joints and merge it. This will make your cactus cohesive and as one element once done. If you observe, I'm trying to build up this trunk using just two layers. It is okay to add or reduce layers, depending on how the colors merge and if you are satisfied with the look. I went ahead and finished one more trunk on the left side of the main trunk. To paint the rest of the trunks, we will be using this wet on wet technique, where we will allow the darker layers to merge and bleed into previous light washes. That is pretty much the sequence we will use to paint each trunk piece by piece. Now that you've got a hang of the sequence of layers that we are doing for each trunk. I will speed up the process a little and finish off the remaining trunks. Oh, by the way, I would love to share a fun fact about the saguaro cactus, while you watch me paint. This cactus can grow to be over 40 feet tall, and their lifespan often exceeds 150 years. The more I researched about this cactus, the more interesting it seemed to paint. Last year, I got a chance to see a saguaro cactus in Mexico and it was as tall as the first floor of the building. Sometimes simply knowing more about a particular botanical plant can bring an extra special interest in wanting it to paint. This is the last trunk of the cactus that I'm finishing. Once all of your trunks are done, we will move down to paint the soil around the cactus. For this, I will apply a wash of water at the ground level of the cactus, and simply add some raw umber on the wet surface. I also added some black color to show shadows and texture of the soil. Now that the cactus is dry, we will work on its texture. If you see closely, this cactus has ridges or lines all over its body. By showing this in our painting, it will instantly make the cactus look interesting and add a definition. To make these lines, I will use a darker value of green apatite genuine by adding some black to it and use a round zero brush to paint them. I'm making sure to not draw very obvious straight lines, but just a few broken lines here and there. We will paint these lines on all the trunks of the cactus. Once your cactus has dried, we will come to the last part of adding thorns to it. I'm using a size 01, black micron pen to draw the thorns. If you look at the pictures of saguaro cactus, you will see that the thorns of this cactus are not very long, but they're short and close to each other. They cover the entire body of the cactus. To draw these, I will be making reshaped tick marks like so, on all the edges and trunks of the cactus. There you go. Our saguaro cactus is now ready. 5. Prickly Pear Cactus: To paint a prickly pear cactus, I will be mixing my own greenish bluish mix using several colors and some violet color. I mixed my shade of green using Taylor Green, Hooker's Green, sap green, draw amber and a bit of violet. If you find mixing so many colors a bit more complex, then just use one or two shades of green and blue to make sure the color of your cactus is on the cooler side of green. On the fruit part on the top, I will be using a pinkish purple shade. I kept mixing the shade of green as needed using varying proportions of the colors I just mentioned. I thought this would bring about good radiation and interest in the overall look of the cactus. I will start by applying a wash off this color on the flat stems of the cactus, keeping my source of light on the right hand side. Because these are small areas to apply a wash, i will paint multiple steps at a time. For the second layer, I will add a bit of purple from the side and merge it into the green wash. To merge the color, I force to clean my brush and spread the violet color. Then using the green color, I merged the two color evenly. This became our third layer. To make it appear even cooler, I used Viridian hue from prima topical palette and applied it as the last layer for added texture and interest. I went ahead and applied the first wash of green color on third stem. While this wash is settling in, I'm going ahead to paint two more stems. Okay, so now I'll go back to the third stem and add some Viridian hue on it to make it look deep and intense. I also added some violet and merged all the colors to create a very dramatic juicy stem. I will now repeat the exact same sequence of layering for the next two stems. A wash of green color, then some Viridian hues, then some violet and merge everything nicely. This is pretty much the sequence we will follow to finish all the stems of the cactus. I'll now speed up the process and paint some stems and come back to you. While you watch me paint, I would love to share a fun fact about this cactus. Cactus under fruits are a large part of Mexican cuisine. The wide flat cactus pads are used in many Mexican main dishes, such as salads and as a feeling for other recipes. The cactus fruit, which is actually called the prickly pear, is very sweet and can be eaten raw, right off the plant. That is pretty much how the prickly pear cactus would look after finishing all the stems. I'm quite happy with the shades of green color I chose. Now we can proceed to painting the fruits on the cactus. For that, I will be using the shade of pinkish purple from the prima tropical palette. I will start by applying a wash off this color on all the pairs and then layer it with the darker value of the same color. While the cactus is drying, we will paint the soil by applying a wash of water and then dabbing a bit sepia, allowing it to bleed in the washer of water. Now we'll been go ahead and paint the thorns or needles on the body of the cactus. Make sure that your cactus is completely dried before you start working on the details. I would start by making small dots all over the body of the cactus and also on the edges. I am using a black micron size zero one pen to do this. Once you have all the dots in place, we will draw the needles sprouting out from each of the black dots. I'm simply drawing two sharp strokes; one short and one long to depict the needles. To paint the needles on the body of the cactus, I'm using bleed proof white color to get that final texture and make the overall look of the cactus a little interesting. You can also use whitewash or white gel pen, to get the same effect. Here is the final look of our prickly cactus. 6. Dwarf Chin Cactus: To paint the dwarf chin cactus, I would be using sap green as the base color, Hooker's green to paint the middle layers, and add black to these colors to create darker values as needed. Let's start by applying a light wash up sap green to the first section of the cactus. Make sure to apply this wash evenly so that the surface of the paper is damp enough as we start building the layers. Onto this wet surface, I will drop in a darker mix of Hooker's green and sap green from the sides and allow it to bleed into the forced wash. For this cactus, I'm keeping my layers quite watery to get maximum bleeding effect. I'm going to keep the center slightly lighter than the sides to show the highlight. Now, for the third layer, I'm mixing some black to the mixture of green and applying it on the sides again. That completes our first section. Let's move on to the next section and repeat the same sequence of layers. While painting the next part, I’m leaving a small white gap between the two sections. I think cactus succulents look really great when you build multiple layers, and it is all a game of merging them into each other. Using good quality paper and colors can really change the way your work looks. I guess you've got the hang of how I'm doing the sections layer by layer. Let's speed up the process to see the next part. We're now done with the head portion of the cactus, and once it is completely dried up, we're going to begin with the flower and the top. I'm using a light shade of pink and we layer it with darker values of the same color. I want the blossom to look bright yet settle, hence I'm sticking to a light shade of pink. You can check the reference photos if you wish to consider other options for the color of the flower. Let's start by working on the petals one-by-one. I will paint a lighter wash and then drop in a darker value and merge the two layers. In this way, I will finish off all the petals. By by the way, feel free to shift to a small size brush. I'm using a Princeton Neptune round 4 to work on the petals. Also, like I mentioned in the sketching video, dwarf chin cacti are quite small in size. I'm doing a slightly bigger version as I want it to show maximum details on it. You can also paint a potted version, which is quite common. I'm working on multiple ones that at a time. Also, be patient till you finish each petal one-by-one. It does take time and it is completely okay. In the meanwhile, I will speed up a bit and wait for you on the other side. I'm almost done with the flower and adding some last minute layers to make it pop out. Now, while the petals are drying, lets paint the soil. On a clean washer photo, I will drop in some brown color and that's about it. Then I will add in some yellow color in the center of the flower. Now comes the interesting part to paint the needles. Using Dr. Ph Martin's Bleedproof White, and size zero brush, I will start working on the needles. If you remember how we sketch the dwarf chin cactus, you can directly start making nodules and brush marks to show the spines. The moment you start adding needles, the cactus will instantly look interesting and the entire look will come together. Remember to keep your needles slightly curved in. There you go, your dwarf chin cactus is now ready. 7. Sweetheart Hoya Succulent: To paint the leaves of sweetatory plant, I will be using sap green, poker's green, and a mixture of the two colors with the dinge flat to get a darker value. If you check reference photos of this succulent, you will notice that the green color is lush and fresh, and hence, sap green would be a nice color to begin with. I will start by applying a light watery wash of sap green color onto some leaves. I want my leaves to look almost opaque and thick, so the first wash itself is quite pigmented. Sweetatory leaves are quite flat in terms of color values and there are not many details on them either. Because their leaves are small, I'm working on multiple leaves at a time since it is just a simple two or three-layer wash. If you're not comfortable working this way, you can finish one leaf at a time and then move on to the next one. I will now make a darker shade of green and drop a tiny amount of color near the stem of each of the leaves. As the first wash is still wet, the second column will instantly bleed onto the wet surface. If you want, you can create an additional darker value of green by adding some black and place it on top of the second layer. I will now repeat the exact same steps with the remaining leaves. We will paint a couple of leaves together, and then I will speed up the process. Using a size sealed, round brush, I will paint the main stem of the plant using the same mix of green color. I'm using the same color to draw the wings of the leaves. I will now go back to paint the remaining leaves. Let's come to the pod. I have divided the pod into three sections and we'll add some design to the middle section on the fly. To paint the pod, I will be using a wash of bond on board and black. I'm applying a wash of water onto the bottom surface of the pod. I will then drop in some bond on board and let it bleed to create a nice drastic effect. Then I'm adding some black color to the bond on board and applying it as the second layer. If you observe, I'm placing colors on the two sides of the pod and leaving a highlight in the center. This would allow me to focus on the roundness of the pod and add some dimension to it. I will repeat the same steps to paint the top section of the pod. To paint the soil on the pod, I'm making some brown brush marks. To paint the middle section of the pod, I'm switching to a size 0 round brush and just making a quick pattern of four different lines. You can design it the way you like. I'm going back to add some finishing details before I say it is done. There you go. Our sweetatory succulent is now ready. 8. Snake Plant Succulent : To paint a snake plant , I'm using three shades for the base, some fresh and warm sap green. A deeper shade of green mixed with black and brown for the stripe bit texture, and a shade of bright yellow for the border of the leaves. Let's start with the base color of the leaves. I'm applying sap green in a gradient manner. Light wash on the top and deeper value mixed with hookers green at the base of the leaf. In this way, I'll first finish painting on the leaves. Try to paint alternate leaves so the initial ones are dried up when you come back to paint the adjacent ones. I will now speed up the process and meet you on the other side to work on the pot. When the base layer of the leaves dry, we will work on the pot. I will apply a light wash of water on the surface of the pot. As the snake plant is vibrant and attractive because of the texture, I want to keep the pot simple with not much details to it. Once I've covered the surface with a wash of water, I will drop in some black pigment on the left side of the pot. It will instantly bleed onto the wet surface. And thereafter, I will simply direct the pigment with my brush and create a gradient pattern. I will keep the source of light on the right side, and hence the wash on right side would be lighter than the left. Then using a clean brush I will match the funnel properly. After this, I will try and create an effortless texture by simply drawing some not so perfect lines on the wet surface of the pot. Now let's get back to the leaves and add some details. We will start by painting the yellow borders for all the leaves. I initially started off with the yellow deep water color, but I realized that I wanted something even brighter. So I switched to a lemony look wash. You can choose a yellow water color too if you don't have wash. Just keep thick and concentrate it to be able to paint the bright or big borders. Using a small size brush will help you to achieve thin yet bold borders. I'm using a pristine round size zero brush. Now that the borders are done, we will work on the texture on the leaves which will instantly change the look of the snake plant and bring it to life. On each of the leaves, I will make small horizontal brush marks in a random manner. Let's do some final touch up with the pot and finish painting its edge. I will now finish up the snake plant by adding some final details on the leaves, and then it should be ready. 9. Conclusion and Project Ideas: Once you know how to mix your colors and decode the shapes of various cacti, I assure you, you will be addicted to paint cacti and succulents. You can also try to paint potted versions of cacti, and they will be a sweet collection to include on notecards, notepads, diary covers, or any other form of stationery items. Think of using this illustration for your digital world or combine all of them together to make a beautiful cacti garden like this one. I really hope you had fun painting all the cacti and succulents with me, and I can't wait to see your beautiful work. If you post your work on Instagram, do tag me @BY THE LAKESIDE, and I would love to feature your work in my stories. Finally, if you really like this class, please consider leaving a review so it can reach maximum students. Thank you so much for taking the class, and I will see you again in my next one. Until then, keep creating.