How to draw a cactus

How to Draw a Cactus – A Step-by-Step Realistic Cactus Drawing

Cacti really are amazing plants in all respects. From their ability to retain water and survive in the world’s harshest environments, to their sharp spikes that fight off predators, they have lived and thrived on this planet for thousands of years. In today’s drawing tutorial, we take you through an easy step-by-step cactus sketch tutorial. From construction steps to realistic coloring, we show you every technique that you need to draw a realistic cactus in only 16 steps!



Easy Cactus Drawing Tutorial for All Artists

This fun and easy cactus drawing tutorial is the perfect project for artists of all experience levels. Whether you are just beginning to explore your creativity, or you are looking for a new challenge, learning how to draw a cactus step by step is fun and exciting. In the image below, you can see an outline of the tutorial steps. We begin by constructing the general shape of the cactus, and then we begin to add realistic cactus coloring and details. 

draw a cactus step by step

This tutorial is easily adaptable for all artistic mediums. If you are a digital artist, you can easily adapt the steps to suit your needs and techniques. The same is true for more physical mediums. If you prefer to work with coloring pencils, or you are a lover of acrylic or gouache paint, you can adapt the coloring steps to suit your needs. 

With that being said, gather your drawing supplies, and let us start our easy cactus drawing!


Step 1: Drawing the Main Trunk of Your Cactus 

We start our cactus sketch by drawing the main middle trunk. Begin by finding the central point of your drawing canvas. Draw a long curved main trunk with an open bottom. If you are using a digital drawing tablet, then we suggest drawing these construction steps on a separate layer to the outline steps and the coloring steps. This will make it easy for you to remove the necessary elements. 

If you are working with a physical medium, it is a good idea to use a light pencil that can be easily erased in later steps. 

cactus drawing 01


Step 2: Outlining the First Arm

On the right side of your main trunk, you can now draw a shorter cactus arm. This arm should curve outwards and then upwards, ending just below the top of the main trunk. That being said, this is your own cactus sketch, so you are welcome to draw your arms in any position you please. 

cactus drawing 02


Step 3: Adding the Second Arm

In this step, you are going to repeat the process of the previous step to draw a second arm. This arm of your cactus sketch can be significantly shorter. It is also a good idea to begin the base of the arm within the trunk, as this will create a more 3D effect. 

cactus drawing 03


Step 4: Constructing the Final Cactus Arm

We are now going to draw the final arm of our realistic cactus. This arm is going to sit in roughly the same place as the arm you drew in the previous step. Start the arm shape below the previous one, and curve it out and upwards. 

The bottom of this arm should be slightly obstructed by the smaller arm. 

cactus drawing 04


Step 5: Drawing the Sandy Base of Your Cactus Sketch

We are now going to construct a little sandy patch below the cactus to provide it with a little more context and finish the composition. Surrounding the base of the main trunk, draw a small squiggly area. There is no correct shape for this sandy patch, this is up to you. 

cactus drawing 05


Step 6: Drawing the Realistic Cactus Ribbing

The ribbing of a cactus is one of its signature features. In this step, you are going to draw rib lines within the main trunk and the smaller arms. These rib patterns should follow the curve of the cactus elements. There should also be a space between each line. 

cactus drawing 06


Step 7: Detailing the Cactus Thorns

The cactus sketch that we are drawing has fine hair-like thorns all over it. To draw these thorn details on your cactus sketch, create little star-like shapes along each rib. These stars can be constructed as two rotated “X” shapes on top of each other. 

Tip: draw these partially visible surrounding the outlines to create a more realistic 3D effect.

cactus sketch 07


Step 8: Applying the Base Color Coat to Your Cactus Sketch

To build up a realistic coloring for our easy cactus drawing, we are going to begin with a solid base coat. Find a lightish shade of green, and use a regular brush to fill the entire body of the cactus. Make sure that this coat is even throughout, and does not include any patches of darker color. 

cactus drawing 08


Step 9: Starting the Sand Coloring 

Now that we have the base color for the cactus sketch, it is time to apply a base coat to the sand patch. Find a light tan or beige shade, and use a regular-sized brush to fill the sand patch with an even coat of color. 

cactus drawing 09


Step 10: Beginning to Contour Your Cactus Sketch

Now that we have the base coloring, it is time to add some dimension using contouring. Use a small soft blending brush and a touch of black paint. Lightly trace the rib lines throughout your cactus drawing. This step will add a three-dimensional structure to your realistic cactus. 

cactus drawing 10


Step 11: Adding More Shadow

Along the contoured edges use a soft brush with black paint to enhance shading and surrounding structure to look more realistic as if a light is coming from one side to cast a shadow.

cactus drawing 11


Step 12: Time for a Secondary Color Coat

We are now going to continue increasing the realism of our easy cactus drawing by applying a lighter secondary color coat. Find a bright green shade and use a small blending brush to apply a secondary color coat to the areas without any shading. 

cactus drawing 12


Step 13: Highlighting Your Cactus Sketch

We are now going to emphasize the lighter areas of the cactus by using a little white paint. Use a small blending brush and add a light layer of white over the secondary color from the last step. 

We want the second color coat to remain visible, so make sure that the white layer is very subtle. 

cactus drawing 13


Step 14: Contouring the Sandy Patch

We are now going to begin adding some dimension to the sandy patch below the realistic cactus drawing. Use a small blending brush and a darker shade of tan, or a light brown. Lightly shade around the edges of the sand patch. 

You can also add a little shadow around the base of your cactus.  

easy cactus drawing


Step 15: Removing the Cactus Sketch Outline

To begin this step, use a small blending brush and some dark brown to add some additional dark shading to the structure of the sand around the cactus’ base. You can then erase the dark outlines of your drawing, to create a more realistic cactus. You can do this by removing the outline layer, or you can trace the outline with a fine brush and the corresponding color at each point. 

realistic cactus


Step 16: Finishing Your Easy Cactus Drawing

In this step make use of a small fine brush and white paint to apply gentle highlights tracing the inner texture lines of the cactus repeat this step with a corresponding color combination of light green and dark green. Apply a final highlight to the sand area using a soft brush with white paint. 

cactus drawing


Just like that, you have an easy and realistic cactus drawing! We hope that you can see how simple it is to draw anything you please if you break it down into easy-to-follow steps. With construction steps, outlines, and realistic coloring, you can bring a desert cactus to life!



Frequently Asked Questions


How to Draw a Cactus Step by Step?

If you want to know how to draw a cactus step by step, then you have come to the right place! Our easy cactus drawing tutorial takes you through all the necessary stages to help you create a beautiful and realistic cactus sketch. 


Is it Easy to Create a Cactus Sketch?

A cactus may seem like a tricky drawing subject, but it is actually very easy if you break it down into easy-to-follow steps. In our easy cactus drawing tutorial, we show you how to form the shape, add realistic details, and use color to bring it to life. 


Cite this Article

Matthew, Matthysen, “How to Draw a Cactus – A Step-by-Step Realistic Cactus Drawing.” Art in Context. March 21, 2022. URL:

Matthysen, M. (2022, 21 March). How to Draw a Cactus – A Step-by-Step Realistic Cactus Drawing. Art in Context.

Matthysen, Matthew. “How to Draw a Cactus – A Step-by-Step Realistic Cactus Drawing.” Art in Context, March 21, 2022.

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