Digital art

How to paint natural outdoor colours

Paint outdoor colours

The great outdoors can be tricky to paint, so here's Saejin Oh's quick guide to getting those colours right.


Saejin Oh
Saejin Oh
Saejin is a freelance illustrator and comic artist who has worked for clients including Udon. He loves creating concept art and character designs, and is currently based in South Korea.

Colouring a bright, sunny outdoor scene is one of the most difficult challenges an artist can face. Unlike any other lighting condition, natural light is most influenced by light reflection and refraction. And when this occurs, almost every object can become a pseudo-light source of its own. Every object will emit its own colour that influences its neighbours.

It’s every painter’s nightmare, but when done right, the painting will look ever so delightful. However, that’s not the hardest part; light refraction is where it gets extra sticky.

Refraction is a term used for light that changes its direction going through a transparent material. While glass is the most common known form of a light refracting material, it can also occur with semi-transparent materials such as your skin.

Try it. Hold your hand up against the light bulb in your room and see if you can see some of the light through your skin. Chances are you can, and you’ll also see that the light has changed the colour of your skin to a burning orange.

Those are some of the things you are expected to express while colouring outdoor scenery. While I can’t take you through a colour theory class in this tutorial, so on the right are a few steps to achieving a small portion.

Step-by-step: A simple approach to creating natural outdoor daylight.


The first colour draft looks a bit artificial and needs serious tweaking. It helps if you know what you want (the mood, time of the day, weather, etc).

While you can always cheat by using a photo reference for colour, it’s always better if you do it on your own without any external help.

Saejin Oh natural colours


Addressing the most immediate problem, I try darkening the overall value of the scene. The colour looks a bit better, but not quite good enough to go into details just yet.

The key here is persistence and the willingness to keep on working until the colour turns out better.

Saejin Oh natural colours


From here I use a mixture of Overlay and Multiply Layer to give the green a bit of bright yellow, and the shadows a blue tint.

What I’m trying 
here is to recreate a light reflection and its interaction between the objects. If an object exists, its colour will influence its neighbours.

Saejin Oh natural colours


Lastly, atmospheric fog 
is added to give a greater sense of distance. It also serves as a contrasting tool to lead the audience’s attention to the characters in the foreground.

Be sure to avoid painting objects in the background with a higher contrasting colour than the foreground elements.

Saejin Oh natural colours


There are four lights!

Well, more like four states of painting light. These are line, shadow, shade and colour. Line (or shape) deals with the subject, shadow deals with 
the separation of major objects, shade amplifies information regarding the volume (depth) and colour gives it, well, colour.

Each stage should be able to stand out on its own, and at 
any stage, you should be able to let go and call it finished.

Saejin Oh natural colours

Saejin's tutorial was featured in ImagineFX issue 41 as part of our Artist Q&A.

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ImagineFX, issue 113


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