How To Paint A Christmas Tree Cactus

How To Paint A Christmas Tree Saguaro Cactus 

This tutorial will teach you how to paint one of those majestic looking cacti that can only be found in the Sonoran Desert. Yup, I am an Arizona resident! I’ve grown to appreciate the beauty of our state, particularly the desert, over the years that I’ve grown up here. There is something truly awe inspiring about our desert when you see it for the first time. And yes, some of us “Zonians” do really decorate the saguaros with Christmas lights (with heavy duty gloves of course)! Any how, you are going to be guided step by step how to do this painting. The beautiful starry twilight sky will be painted first, then you will draw the cactus with a piece of chalk, paint it in and add those fun Christmas lights!

Photo Oct 08, 9 22 14 AM


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Turn your blank 16″ x 20″ canvas to vertical position. 


Paint in “Mars Black” at the top (about 2-3″). I painted in an arc line.

Mars Black


Next I added another arc area of color with “Twilight” blue. I blended that blue with the black as well by painting over some of the black. 


Then I added “violet”. I also blended that violet into the navy blue by brushing over the color. 


Then I added “Magenta”. This is such a pretty color! Probably my favorite Liquitex paint color. I blended the magenta into the violet as well. 


The final color on the horizon line is ” Titanium White”. I also blended this into the magenta by painting over the colors. As you see in the video, I ended up brushing up into all the colors for this step. 


Next I took a wet brush, applied titanium white and flicked and splattered stars in the sky. 


Then I got a small brush and painted the outline of the moon in with titanium white. When the white was dry, I painted yellow on top of the white. 


For the landscape I started with mars black on the bottom and then applied burnt umber towards the top where the horizon line is. 

I defined my mountain line with burnt umber. 


The black and the burnt umber are lightly mixed together but don’t make a solid color.


Then I drew the entire cactus in with white chalk. White chalk works beautifully on (dried) canvas because it can erase! Go ahead and copy my cactus. If you do come up with your own cactus shape, just make sure it is large and take up most of the foreground! 


Then I painted the cactus in a solid coat of titanium white. If there are parts that are translucent, that is fine! The point of the white is to make a primed base to paint the green on.



Then I took “sap green” and painted the cactus in. If you have ever painted a pumpkin (like my pumpkin tutorial), this is kind of a similar concept. Paint in a curved stroke on the outsides. In the middle, paint in an oval stroke. I got different variations of green by varying the firmness of how I held the brush. I pressed hard in some areas so I could see “cactus lines”. 


On the top of the cactus I painted some curved “criss-cross” lines to force it to look a little 3D. In the video, you will see a close up. Or you can click on the image below to see.


I painted in the lines of the cactus. It is the same concept as painting lines on a pumpkin or a watermelon!

I did the same thing with the arms. 


Then I used a very fine brush to paint in the strings of the lights. I used “mars black” for this. 


Paint an “s” line. Leave a blank space where the lights go behind the cactus. Then repeat. 


Then I painted the lights. I used a small round brush for this. Basically I did each light in two strokes to make an oval shape. I did one color at a time and painted in random spots. Note that the light socket will come after painting the lights. 

Then I did all the blue lights. 


Then I did the yellow, the orange and the green. For the light sockets, I went in with a tiny brush and painted a small rectangle that overlapped just the bottom of each light.


For the highlights in the lights, I did one small stroke of white just on one side of each light.


And there you have it! Your very own Christmas Tree Cactus!

Don’t forget to share your art on the Step by Step Painting Facebook Page or on Pinterest!


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