How to paint a realistic watercolor caterpillar

Caterpillars can make a very cute addition to botanical paintings. They’re a really fun way to inject extra life and detail into a composition. 

In this mini class, I’m going to show you how to paint this realistic watercolor caterpillar. It’s a Citrus Swallowtail, which enjoys munching on the leaves of citrus plants. Because of its diet, it’s considered a pest in some parts of the world where citrus fruits are a vital part of their agriculture. 

But from our artistic perspective, this little guy is no pest; just another beautiful part of the giant, complex tapestry that is nature.

To paint this realistic watercolor caterpillar, we’ll be looking closely at the range of green hues. And to create a rounded, 3D form on both the caterpillar and the stem, we’ll need to be brave and make use of the full tonal range. 

As this is a short tutorial, I’m sharing it with you in full so you can paint along with me. 

I think you’re going to love this! Grab your sketchbook now and let’s get started…

You can download the reference photo PDF here. On it is a line drawing which you can print and trace, or of course you might like to create a freehand outline drawing.

I hope you have fun painting your watercolor caterpillar with me and that you’re pleased with your result.

And I hope this class gives you the confidence to tackle painting other caterpillars that you can add to more of your painting compositions.

For added realism, here’s another tip:

Remember that, in nature, caterpillars will often feed on their favoured ‘host plants’. If you’re painting a particular plant and want to research which caterpillars may be found on it, here’s a great tool you can use. You just need to find out the scientific name of the plant you’re painting (Wikipedia can help with this) and the tool helps you to find which caterpillars will be attracted to it.

Please leave me a comment below if you’ve enjoyed this mini class, and let me know how you got on with your painting if you had a go. It makes my day to hear from you.

Happy painting,

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24 Comments

  1. Catherine on June 22, 2022 at 6:41 pm

    Thank you for the class. Always enjoy watching you paint. I will have to try painting the caterpillar..

  2. Ellen Pillersdorf on June 22, 2022 at 7:06 pm

    Thank you. I can’t wait to try the caterpillar.

    • Lise Lacroix on June 22, 2022 at 8:51 pm

      Thank you very much Anna. I need to practice a lot. 😊

  3. John Lee on June 22, 2022 at 7:31 pm

    Looks like lots of fun Anna, thank you so much, got to try this one. John.

  4. Ruth wilnai on June 22, 2022 at 8:14 pm

    Thanks a lot, I wish I saw it before I started painting Clivia buds. I will try the Caterpillar

  5. Scott Squires on June 22, 2022 at 9:33 pm

    Curious how people (including Anan) are tracing onto a watercolor paper block.(her recommendation)
    Graphite on back, transfer paper, projection,..?

    • Tina on June 22, 2022 at 10:05 pm

      I believe the answer is “all of the above”. There are many ways to accomplish a task, do what is convenient to you.

  6. Peggy Marcus on June 22, 2022 at 9:44 pm

    Thank you so much Anna. I have printed off the sketch.

    I will be back later to paint with you.

    Peggy

  7. Peggy Marcus on June 22, 2022 at 9:45 pm

    I think this will be a wonderful start to the Summer and gets me on my way.

  8. Vera Dole on June 22, 2022 at 9:54 pm

    I love this catapillar! Could not get the sound on your tutorial–so will have a difficult time following, but will certanly try. Makes me want to subscribe again! Thanks!

  9. Kimberly Hibbert on June 22, 2022 at 10:24 pm

    Thank you for this cute little Caterpillar tutorial!
    I think I’m going to give it a try! 😊 🐛

  10. Liam on June 22, 2022 at 10:34 pm

    It is such a joy to watch you, listen to your soothing voice and mannerisms as well as follow along with your teaching exercises/teaching lessons. I have purchased you book, ‘Anna Mason’s Watercolour World’ and I can hear you through the pages. Thank you for bring a flood of sunshine into the world.. Blessings.

  11. Joyce C on June 23, 2022 at 2:46 am

    Thank you for this fun painting. I’ll paint it, then share it with my grandkids who always collect caterpillars!

  12. Danielle DIF on June 23, 2022 at 7:20 am

    Thank you very much Anna for this free access tutorial. It was Celeste, a childhood friend who told me about you, your talent, she was a fan. I admire your style so realistic. Gratitude

  13. suzanne Linch on June 23, 2022 at 9:56 am

    How wonderful, thank you

  14. Buffy Weiss on June 24, 2022 at 12:54 am

    Really pleased with my little caterpillar! Thank you.

  15. Robby Cook on June 24, 2022 at 11:44 am

    Hi Anna, thank you SO much for your inspiration and for sharing your wonderful techniques. I’ve just finished your wonderful caterpillar using Procreate and by using your layering method have finally managed to reproduce a creditable watercolour effect (in my opinion that is 😀). It has been such an enjoyable Friday following along with you. I also appreciated your sketch which showed what a professional includes/leaves out. Haveagreatweekend and thanks again for your generosity … Robby

  16. Julie Evans on June 24, 2022 at 7:49 pm

    Great mini lesson! So articulate, positive language and good video quality. I love the result too! Thank you for sharing this project.

  17. Carolyn Turner on June 25, 2022 at 1:25 am

    Can you list the colors that you use so we can set up the watercolor

  18. Lana Dickinson on June 26, 2022 at 2:27 pm

    So enjoyed painting the caterpillar Anna, thank you so much! I will be signing up for your classes very soon, it’s going to be a gift to myself!

  19. Carol on June 26, 2022 at 10:00 pm

    I loved painting my little guy! So fun!
    Thank you for your inspiration and instruction.

  20. Teryl on June 29, 2022 at 4:48 pm

    Hi Ann I joined your school, but they will not except my E-Mail Please help me I loved doing the caterpillar

    Teryl

  21. Teryl Franks on June 29, 2022 at 4:57 pm

    Why I paid ;my fee Please look in to this thank you Teryl

  22. Charlie on July 24, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    I have spent a wonderful afternoon following your pear and caterpillar tutorials and am delighted with the results. I have learned so much about how to capture light and form in watercolour. Your teaching style is so clear and very well paced. Thank you!

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