Let’s Paint Deer Takes Flight Watercolor Sketch

Do you want to paint a quick watercolor sketch using only a few colors? Okay! Let’s go.

Here are my reference photos taken at Hammel Woods in Shorewood, IL on a beautiful winter day.

Step 1: Sketch out your road map. What do you want to convey about your hiking adventure? What did you see? On this particular day, I scared white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and  mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) all within a few minutes of each other! And could you blame them? They must take flight…when a big human is nearing closer. I like the combination of the two subjects. The deer, being larger than life in comparison to the landscape scene of mallards, makes a nice collage and great memorial of the day.
In this first step, I’m using a new pencil to sketch instead of a regular graphite pencil. This is a Prismacolor Col-Erase #20044 blue tinted pencil which completely erases even under watercolors. In the end however, I liked the blue pencil marks so much that I decided to leave them in after all.

Step 2: Wet the deer with clean water and a small round watercolor brush. I’m only using 5 Winsor & Newton watercolor paints for this sketch: Winsor yellow, raw sienna, burnt sienna, French ultramarine blue, and viridian green. While the deer is wet, paint in Winsor yellow all over the body except for the white parts. While this is still wet, touch the outer edge of the deer with a little raw sienna.

Step 3: Add a little more raw sienna to the body, staying clear of highlighted areas where the sun is striking on the right side.

Step 4: Make a mixture of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. Paint the shadow areas on the deer. Use French ultramarine blue in the shadow areas of the white sections like his tail and under belly. Do not cover all of the white. Let the paper show through.

Here is a picture of my set up. Unfortunately this sketch could not be painted outside. I needed to study the deer’s flight position from a photo. In the top palette I have many colors, but I made a new palette with just a few. I’m trying to see how few tubes I could use and how many color combinations I can create.

Step 5: We have to let the deer dry completely before painting detail, so let’s move onto the background trees in our landscape portion. Turn the paper upside down and wet the background trees. Using a mixture of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna with a heavier concentration of the blue, paint the trees as one big area. Dab a little more blue sections and dab a little more brown sections to give it depth.

Step 6: While wet, scratch out some tree shapes with the end of a pointed brush or something sharp.

Step 7: Using the Winsor yellow and raw sienna mixture, paint the grasses making sure not to touch the distant trees if they’re still wet. Paint the lake using French ultramarine blue. While the lake is wet drop in some burnt sienna for reflective shadows. Under the deer’s feet, paint a few grasses using the same yellow mixture and paint a little snow using a mixture of viridian green and French ultramarine blue.

Step 8: Our deer should be dry, so paint in some dark details using a strong mixture of French Ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. As in strong, I mean more pigment and less water. Paint his eye, hoofs, and darkest shadows.

Step 9: Time to paint the foreground tree and ducks. I know I sound like a broken record, but again, you’re using a mixture of French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. The ducks have more blue about them and the trees have more sienna.

Step 10: Embellish with text. Here I wrote the location with a pink brush pen and the scientific names of wildlife spotted with a fine tip brown marker. I don’t have scientific names memorized, but I’m hoping the more I write them, the quicker I will learn them. I forgot to write the date and temperature, but I can go back and do that later.

I hope you enjoyed this free step by step demonstrations on how to watercolor sketch nature using only 5 colors. Don’t be afraid to try it yourself! The more you practice the easier it will become.

Go take a hike and sketch something!


  1. Yes! Thank you, this was very enjoyable and helpful. Beautiful page!! Is your blue pencil the non-photo blue? I have a hard time seeing the color of the non-photo one. Yours looks nice and darker.
    Thank you.

  2. a third journal entry, and beautiful, too; I think being back in school agrees with you. I know ‘m enjoying myself

  3. fighting with my printer … and it is fighting back .. ans d it is winninh


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