Desert scenery painting

Desert scenery painting DEFAULT
  • Red Desert Wonder by Roland Lee

    Step 1

    “Red Desert Wonder” watercolor painting demonstration of Utah red cliffs

  • Step 2

    As usual I began with the sky wash. In this case I wet portions of the sky and left other parts completely dry. Then I brushed the color into the washes letting the pigment mingle randomly. The combination of hard and soft edges in the sky creates the drama I’m looking for.

  • Watercolor painting demonstration of Utah red cliffs

    Step 3

    While the sky was drying I brushed a wash of clear water across the foreground area and boldly dropped in mixtures of warm and cool colors, roughly indicating shapes of shrubs and areas of red sand. As it began to dry I used a brush loaded with clear water and flicked it across the wash.

  • Watercolor painting demonstration of Utah red cliffs

    Step 4

    While the ground was drying I move to the mountains in the middle ground laying in loose washes of warm color at the top of the cliffs and letting the wash turn cooler, more red, and finally bluer toward the shadows along the bottom of the cliffs.

  • Watercolor painting demonstration of Utah red cliffs

    Step 5

    A close-up allows you to see the luminosity that comes from allowing the pigments to mingle while the paper is wet. When those dried completely, I cut in the blue cast shadow on the right side of the painting. In order to get a crisp edge the paper had to be dry.

  • Watercolor painting demonstration of Utah red cliffs

    Step 6

    With the basic underglazes in place I now began to tighten up the edges of the foreground shrubs and add detail to the cliffs. At this point we really get a feel for how the scene is coming together.

  • Red Desert Wonder by Roland Lee

    Step 7

    I finished up by adding darks in the foreground and throwing in touches of detail in the sand area and shrubs. “Red Desert Wonder” 14 x 20 Transparent Watercolor by Roland Lee.


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Painting a Desert Landscape with Pastels

In this pastel lesson, we’ll take a look at developing a desert scene with pastels on PastelMat paper. We’ll work in a specific order, addressing the background first, followed by the middle ground, and lastly – the foreground. Although we’ll mostly focus on local color (observed color), we’ll also pull out a color scheme of secondary colors to create additional contrast, while ensuring harmony.

Art Materials for this Lesson

Both traditional stick pastels and pastel pencils are used to complete the desert scene. Mostly pastels are used, but the pencils come in handy for details. Rembrandt pastels and Carbothello pastel pencils are used in this case, but any brand can be substituted.

This work is painted on PastelMat paper (light gray surface). This paper features a tooth similar to ultra fine grit sandpaper. As a result of the texture, colors can be easily layered while keeping the dust to a minimum. Keep in mind that the surface in which you choose to work is just as important as the medium. The surface has a huge impact on how the medium behaves and the final result.

(The following links are affiliate links which means that I make a small commission if you purchase without an additional cost to you)…

The Photo Reference

The photo reference used in this painting comes from As you’ll notice, we use the photo reference for the layout, textures, and value relationships. However, during the execution of the painting, changes are made and the reference is loosely followed. Our painting should not be a direct copy of the image, but rather an interpretation of the subject.

Here’s a look at the photo reference used in this painting…

Desert landscape photo reference

Pulling Out a Color Scheme

A color scheme is typically a limited palette of colors that have a defined relationship in terms of their locations on the color wheel. As you may imagine, there are lots of possibilities when incorporating a color scheme in a painting. The artist may choose to completely manufacture colors, but keep the values accurate. Or, the artist may choose to intensify certain colors so that they create a subtle, but noticeable color scheme.

In the case of our subject, we can clearly see that orange is already a dominant color. We also notice that green is present. And if we look closer, we can see hints of purple as well.

This means that a secondary color scheme of purple, orange, and green makes sense for this image. This will keep the image looking natural while increasing contrast and interest.

Secondary color scheme in landscape painting

Start with the Background

We’ll begin by first quickly sketching the composition using loose lines. At this stage, we want to map out the subject on the paper and have an idea how we plan on moving the viewer’s eye through the work. A dark brown pastel pencil is used to apply these marks. This is drawn quickly without regard to any details.

Once our loose sketch is in place, we can turn our attention to the background. Pastels are similar to the opaque painting mediums of oils and acrylics. Even though pastels are a drawing medium (since they are applied dry), the thought process of the artist is more closely related to that of painting. Pastel applications can completely cover previous applications. This means, that like with opaque painting mediums, we can work from the background to the middle ground and finish up with the foreground. Working in this manner, and in this order, ensures that we don’t have to work around objects in the foreground to develop the middle ground and background like we have to do with other drawing mediums like colored pencils or graphite.

In this case, our background consists of the sky. We’ll begin with a medium light blue, leaving open areas for the shapes of the clouds. A slightly darker blue is applied to the top of the sky, while a couple of lighter blues are applied adjacent to the horizon.

Sketching contour lines and painting in the blue of the sky

Once we have our initial applications of blue applied to the sky, we’re now ready to add the clouds. A very light blue is applied to define the shapes of the clouds. Although it may be tempting to use white for this, a light value of a color is a better choice.

Once the shapes of the clouds are in place, it’s time to develop the illusion of form by layering darker and lighter values. A few light grays are layered and blended in the core shadows. A bit of color is also mixed in. In this case, purple is added since it fits with our color scheme.

Painting clouds with pastel desert landscape

A light yellow is used to add highlights which is followed by a touch of white. Edge quality is important. Pay attention to the softer and harder edges of the clouds. In the areas where the edge is soft, use your finger or a blending stump to smudge.

Mountains and the Middle Ground

Once the sky is complete, we can move on to the middle ground. In our scene, the middle ground is made up of the distant mountains, the flat desert floor, and strips of multi-colored vegetation.

We’ll begin with the distant mountains, layering the color right over the sky. At first, just basic shapes of color are applied. A light yellow ochre and an earthy orange are used.

Painting basic shape of color for distant desert mountains

With an underlayment of basic colors in place, we can layer colors of similar hue, but contrasting values, to gradually develop the details and texture.

Increasing contrast on distant desert mountains with pastels

While the shapes of value and color are beginning to describe the distant mountains, we still need pull out a few details. To accomplish this, we’ll use pastel pencils. And while it’s tempting to get wrapped up in the details, we’ll simply use the pastel pencils to make marks with precision instead of defining every detail that we see. We want to communicate the form and texture of the distant mountains mostly through the relationships of values.

Adding a few details to the distant mountains with pastel pencils

You’ll also notice that the shapes of a couple of purple mountains are added as well. These areas are enhanced with contrasting values of light and dark purple using the pastel pencils.

A few hints of trees are added on the distant mountains using a few greens (both dark and light) as we begin to transition to the lower portion of the picture plane.

We’ll begin layering strips of color as we work down into the heart of the middle ground. These strips of color are influential in the eye flow of the viewer. Since we want to encourage the viewer to move through the work, we’ll layer these marks in a slight diagonal. This will help to pull the viewer’s eye from the right side of the picture plane back to the distant mountains on the left side of the scene.

We’ll use the same greens that we used to indicate the trees on the mountains but add more variety by broadening the range of value. This means that lighter and darker greens are used here in addition to the greens used for the trees.

Painting vegetation in the middle ground with pastels

As we continue to work in the middle ground, we’ll patiently layer colors and values to develop the vegetation of the desert floor. Dark reds (to contrast greens) are used mostly in the shadowed areas while bright yellow-greens are layered over darker greens to create the highlights. Black is mixed in areas to make the values darker but not without some blending, while bits of the orange desert sand is allowed to peek through in areas.

Painting dry brush and vegetation in the desert scene

Working into the Foreground

As we work into the foreground of the desert scene, we’ll continue increasing the contrast in values. We’ll also incorporate a broader range of color. Objects that are closer to the viewer are typically stronger in value contrast.

As we layer the colors and values for the vegetation in the foreground, we’ll create a diagonal that leads the viewer up from the lower left of the picture plane to the right. From there, the viewer’s eye is lead to the distant mountains on the left side of the picture plane thanks to the diagonal we developed earlier in the upper middle ground.

Painting grass in the foreground of the desert landscape

Using light yellows and grays, we’ll pull up grass blades and withering branches over the darker tones. We’ll also add more variety to the oranges and browns of the desert floor. Here again, we’re following the reference loosely. Feel free to add or leave out as much information as you wish. Also, don’t be afraid to be bold with your use of color.

Pulling Out a Secondary Color Scheme

At this point, we have an ample amount of orange and green in our scene. This leaves us the opportunity to pull out more purples. Some of the dry vegetation is a lighter gray, but we can add a touch of purple that matches the value. By matching the value, we could add any color we wish. These light purple additions bring the work together and creates harmony while pushing contrast.

Pulling out a secondary color scheme in the landscape

As we add bits of purple, we can continue to strengthen the contrast by layering darker browns and reds in shadowed areas. Highlights are also added to some of the branches to communicate a sense of form.

Desert Landscape Painting – Conclusion

The complete the image, we’ll add a few last indications of grass blades and brush to the foreground. Then we’ll return to where we started with the sky. Here, a few deliberate marks are added with our original light blue, making the painting slightly brighter.

Desert landscape painting with pastels

Our completed pastel painting of a desert scene features a subtle color scheme of secondary colors while communicating the subject in an artful way.

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Watercolor Lesson - How to paint Desert Landscape Cliffs, Sage brush, and Pinyon pines

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This beginner acrylic tutorial will guide you through simple steps for painting a desert scene. The scene has mountains in the distance, saguaro cacti and a dry desert wash.

The painting is done on an 11 x 14 canvas, however, you can do this on any size, preferably a rectangular size canvas.

I love painting a desert, especially one with a night sky! That beautiful full moon lights up the landscape creating just enough light to see the cacti and color on the ground.

Enjoy and happy painting!


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  • Acrylic Paint
  • Paint Brushes
  • 11 x 14 Canvas (or any size)
  • Pencil or Chalk
  • 2.5" Circle To Trace
  • T-Square Ruler


  • Titanium White
  • Mars Black
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium 
  • Hooker's Green Hue Permanent
  • Phthalo Blue
  • Quinacridone Magenta
  • Burnt Umber


  • 1" Flat Wash Brush
  • #8 Round Brush
  • #4 Round Brush
  • 1/4" Flat/ Bright Brush


  1. See tutorial on for full instructions!


Color Palette


Directions At A Glance



Step By Step Directions

1. Draw Horizon Line

Position your canvas so that it is vertical. Then draw a horizontal line across the canvas (lightly) with a pencil. I recommend using a T-Square ruler to line up your line. Alternatively you can place a piece of painters tape in this area.


2. Paint The Sky

Load your palette with the colors “phthalo blue” and “titanium white”. Use a 1″ Flat Wash Brush dipped in water and tapped dry. Load it into the phthlao blue.

Start at the top of the canvas and paint left and right strokes going across the canvas.


Continue to paint the phthalo blue and fill up half of the sky area.


Then load your brush into the white without rinsing it. Blend the white into the dark blue. Then continue painting left and right strokes down to the horizon line.

Your blue should be darkest at the top and gradually blend to a lighter blue as you approach the horizon line. Go all the way to the horizon line and stop.


3. Paint The Ground

The ground is painted in the same technique as the sky only with a brown and then blended to a lighter brown up to the horizon line.

Load you palette with burnt umber. Rinse and dry your 1″ flat brush. Start at the bottom and paint left and right strokes to about the halfway point under the horizon line.


Then gradually blend white into the brown so the brown gets lighter.


The ground does not have to be a gradient. You can have darker streaks all throughout the land. It does give the landscape a sense of “depth” when you have your lighter brown closest to the horizon line and the darker brown on the bottom.


4. Paint Stars

Use a toothbrush (or your flat brush) for splatter star technique. Basically load the toothbrush in some slightly watered down titanium white paint. Test out an area away from the canvas first to make sure the splatters are not too thick or not too watery.

Flick the brush with your finger to make the splatter stars in the blue sky area (try not to get dots on the ground). Alternatively you can cover the brown by laying a sheet of paper over it so it will block the start splatters.


5. Paint The Mountains

These mountains are going to be done in layers with the furthest mountain range being the lightest layer and the closest (bottom) mountain range being the darkest layer. You will be making three shades of gray on your palette: light, medium and dark.

Use a #8 round brush for this step.

For the lightest gray layer, mix 4 parts white, 1 part black and 1 part brown. Add a bit of water to this to help with the flow.


Loosely paint the furthest mountain range line above the horizon line.


Then fill in the mountain. You can paint all the way to the bottom or leave a gap. The other two layers will be painted overlapping this far mountain range.


Next mix a medium gray on your palette. Paint the next layer of mountain range below the lighter one.



For the third & bottom mountain range layer, use just mars black.


Then, lightly “dry brush” mars black below the black mountain range to create a shadowy area at the base of that land area.


6. Paint The Dry Wash

Use your #8 round brush and light brown (white mixed with brown) to paint a diagonal dried river area. Start in the lower left area and paint a diagonal line to the upper right area of the land.


Create this dry river area that is wide on the bottom and gets narrow in the distance. Use the “dry brush” technique to fill in diagonal lines in this area. Loosely and lightly paint it in with the light brown color but leave a lot of that first layer of the ground showing through.


Paint some darker brown into the dried river area.


7. Paint The Moon

For the moon, I traced a 2.5″ circle (I used a circular container to trace). You can find a similar size circle to trace, a compass, etc.

Use a pencil to trace the circle of this moon so that it is behind the mountain range.


Use a #4 round brush to paint the mountain range in. Start with a light blue color (mix about 1 part phthalo blue with 2 parts titanium white). Paint short textured strokes on the bottom of the moon (just above the mountain range).


Gradually add in small amounts of titanium white into that light blue as you paint your way up the circle. Keep painting textured strokes. This moon is slightly darker on the bottom and lighter at the top.


Continue to add more textured white strokes as you work your way up the circle.


Then go back into the moon and add some darker textured strokes (more phthalo blue).


Blend those darker blue areas into the moon to create more of that “moon texture”. Tip: add more white into the blue if it gets too dark. Phthalo blue is a strong color.


Outline the outer edge of the moon with just titanium white to brighten it up.

To paint that shooting star, paint a small dot with titanium white and your round brush. Then dry off your brush and paint the tail by stroking your paint from the dot outwards so it fades out.

8. Paint Clouds

Use a small 1/4″ bright/ flat brush to paint the clouds. Mix a medium gray color on your palette (almost the same shade as the middle mountain range).

Wipe a little paint off your brush so there is only a small amount on the brush. Use the tip of your brush to paint small circular strokes forming the shape of the clouds.


These are flat, horizontal clouds. The ones up higher in the sky are slightly larger and the ones towards the mountains are slightly smaller.


Then highlight the bottom of the clouds. Mix a medium gray on your palette by adding white to that first darker gray. Load your brush with that lighter gray and wipe it off with a towel so there is only a small amount paint on the brush.

Paint small circular strokes on the bottom of the cloud blending with that darker gray. Note: the highlight is on the bottom of the cloud because that is where the moon would be reflecting the light.

Tip: here is a cloud tutorial that explains a little further about the technique I use to create clouds.


Next add a small amount of a lighter color of gray to the bottom of the clouds. Again, only have a small amount of paint on the tip of your brush. Paint in circular strokes blending with the other grays. You can also overlap some clouds over the moon.



9. Paint Large Saguaro Cactus

Load your palette with hookers green hue permanent and titanium white. Mix about 1 part white with 2 parts green to make a lighter green.

Use your #8 or #4 round brush to paint the outline of the large saguaro cactus on the bottom left.


Draw out the shape of the cactus with your brush then fill it in solid. This is a tall, narrow rectangular shape with a curved top. The top is also slightly more narrow than the bottom.


Then paint the arms of the saguaro. Make the base of the arm more narrow and the top wider with a rounded/ curved top.

Paint as many arms as you want. Add some lighter green (add more white to your brush or to the green of your palette) and paint the right side of the arms and blend with the green. This gives the cactus some highlight and depth.


10. Paint Large Prickly Pear Cactus

Add some cadmium yellow medium to the green on your palette. Paint the prickly pear cactus shape by painting a teardrop shape. Then paint smaller oval/ teardrop shapes attached to the larger one.

Tip: vary the green by adding different amounts of white/ green/ yellow to your brush.

11. Paint smaller saguaros in the background

Use a smaller brush for the smaller cacti in the background. I used my #4 round brush. Paint vertical lines with a rounded tops as well as the arms of the cacti.


Paint as many saguaro cacti as you want! Remember to make them smaller the further away they are. Some of the ones way in the distance are just a small vertical paint mark and you do not see the arm.


12. Paint Shadows & Rocks

Dry brush horizontal shadows next to each of the cacti. Use a #4 round brush and mars black and wipe off the paint so only a small amount of paint is on the brush.

To paint the rocks, mix a dark gray on your palette. Then paint the rock shape. Add a little white to the rock on the right side. Paint several rocks along the dried river bed with different shades of gray.

To paint the agave on the bottom, use different tints of green (hookers green mixed with white) to paint pointed leaf shapes fanning out to create the agave plant.

13. Paint Details On Prickly Pear Cactus & Saguaros

Use titanium white and a #4 round brush to paint small dots on the prickly pear.

Then load your palette with some quinacridone magenta. Paint little teardrop shaped prickly pear fruit on the cactus. Add some pink (quinacridone magenta mixed with white) highlight on one side of each of the fruits.

Then paint yellow blossoms on some of the saguaros. Mix cadmium yellow medium with a little white. Use the 4 round brush to stroke up and make small little blossoms on the tops of each of the arms.

Then paint little black dots on the prickly cactus fruits.

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Categories Cactus/ Succulents, Landscape, Moon, No Traceable Required, Year RoundSours:

Painting desert scenery

Desert Scenery Painting Canvas Print Art Home Decor Palm Trees Home Decor (Frame:No)

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Rocky Desert Sunset - Paint with Kevin ®

wdsdtt DIY Numbers Painting Broad Sahara Desert Scenery DIY Painting By Numbers Wall Art Picture Acrylic Painting For Home Decoration

Finished Size: 20 by 16 inches. 50x40 cm

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♥ If you careless to fill in a wrong color, you can wait the paint to get dry and then cover the wrong part with the correct color on the surface.

♥ If you happen to have the paint on your cloth, please wash it immediately.
♥ Please cover the lid of paint well when you do not use it, in case the paint gets dry.
♥ The figures on the canvas may not be covered entirely, hope you do not mind.
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