Fantasy oil painting “Frozen cactus”

Original fantasy oil painting “Frozen cactus” ©YueZeng


I like cactus. But I never realized how big they are until our family trip to Arizona last Thanksgiving. They are huge! Here are some photos of Desert Botanical Garden. To be honest, although every cactus in the Garden looks absolutely beautiful and stunning, they still give me “man made” feeling. I can tell they are being arranged. I find myself loving the cactus which grows in the middle of no where. Please imagine this, when you are driving on a country road alone at sunset, one giant cactus stands up and tall in the golden desert. It is your companion till land’s end.

Initial thoughts

I couldn’t wait to paint some cacti after seeing them in Arizona. But again, painting cactus in desert sounds routine. So here I use conceptual contrast as I did before. Snow mountain would be a good contrast to desert dune. The plant has to change too if I want to put them on snowy landscape. Desert is hot, the opposite side is cold. Then how about frozen one? The cacti are still alive. They grow in the ice age climate. Their spikes are white icicles.

For this piece I didn’t put any animal in there as size reference. If this was the ice age situation, there might not be that many animals running around. I would like to keep the image cool and quiet.

By the way, I have to Google the correct plural form of cactus which is “cacti” to be safe.

Digital sketch

In the beginning I only drew several big ones. But the image felt empty so I kept putting in more cacti in different sizes. The finished painting has tiny cacti figures on further hills too.

Digital sketch of fantasy oil painting “Frozen cactus” ©YueZeng


At last I add a hole on the biggest cactus. Every big cactus has a hole or holes due to birds or small animals. They shall survive the ice age together.

In the end I would like to share a little fun story. During our Arizona trip, my 7 year old boy argued with his 3 year old sister as we saw those wild cacti beyond the highway.

Little sister “WOW, they are big!”

Brother “That’s normal size.”

Little sister “They are big!”

Brother “They are normal!”

Little sister paused one second, and said “They are normal big!”


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My paintings are an outlet to express the imagination I have inside my head that I can not put into words. After trying many mediums, I always find myself coming back to paint and brushes. In my current artistic practice, I use oil paint and mainly create portraits of mythical creatures and animals transfixed in the shifting colours of seascapes and landscapes. There is a natural spirit and magic to these creatures and their energy draws me in. Choosing to paint these creatures as real living wildlife rather than abstractions, I use bold and vivid colours to express the imaginary intertwined with reality, finding magic between the seams. Using a saturated colour palette, I create bold and striking imagery, contrasted between foreground and background, subject and landscape, and light and darkness. Weaving their bodies and the surface of the landscape into each other through organic forms and flowing brush strokes, I find beauty, strength and innocence in these creatures that reflect my inner world.