The beautiful and graceful deer spirit animal is revered across cultures. It’s a spirit totem that embodies gentleness and innocence. In this blog post, I will explain what is the meaning of the deer. The watercolor tutorial that follows is an easy, playful exercise for mindfulness.
When you scroll down, you will notice that it’s a much simpler watercolor than my opening illustration for this blog post. You can print out the free line art, trace it, and off you go. You don’t need any artistic skills. I’m showing you how to enjoy watercolor to experience mindfulness through creativity. It’s also a way to explore the inner spirit of this woodland goddess called deer.
If you want to go directly to the tutorial, scroll down.
What does the deer spirit animal mean?
If you have a special affinity for deer, it speaks of sensitivity and intuitive knowledge. A deer that crosses your path is nudging you to pay attention to these qualities. A deer dream is your unconscious mind reminding you of these gentle traits.
The antlers that crown the deer head are shed once a year. Each year, the antlers grow out with a new stud until they reach their full size after 5-6 years. For this reason, deer energy is synonymous with inner transformation and regeneration. The antlers stretching upwards to the sky are seen as antennas attuning to the spirit world. In many cultures, the deer power animal is a spiritual authority.
If a deer crosses your path, ask yourself if you are stuck in some part of your life. It’s a gentle invitation to make changes that will bring about transformation.
Did you know that the deer is one of the planet’s most abundant and successful animals? This benign and innocent creature thrives among many kinds of predators, including humans. That’s why the deer totem inspires courage. It’s the courage to handle obstacles and strife with gentleness and goodwill. Be like the deer who skillfully moves in the forest, always finding new paths to avoid trouble. The deer spirit is also encouraging you to seek out new adventures to infuse your life with vitality.
The mother deer looks after her young for a full year. The fawns follow her everywhere. Deer medicine represents an awakening of innocence and freshness.
What does the deer symbolize?
Deer are embedded in rich symbolic meanings across cultures all over the planet.
In the Celtic tradition, the deer is a magical creature that moves between the worlds. The female deer is the embodiment of grace, sensitivity and intuitive knowledge. Transformed into a woman, she leads men into an enchanted fairy realm. The male deer, the stag, is the king of the forest and its protector. He represents independence, pride, and purification. The deer symbolism in Celtic tradition is appreciated in modern, earth-centered spirituality.
In Native American tribes, the deer totem is related to fertility and hunting as well. Some Mexican and south-western US tribes consider deer as the ancestor of the human race. They use deer song and dance in their rituals, and see the deer spirit as caretaker of the earth.
Deer have acute senses, both vision and hearing. She can see clearly at a distance, with a special ability to see contrasts and edges in dim light. Subtle movement and appearances are easily detected. As an animal symbol of gentleness, deer medicine is used in shamanic journeying. Like Celtic tradition, they believe that the deer opens the door between the worlds.
In Buddhism, deer bring harmony, peace, happiness, and longevity. When Buddha made his first preaching in Varanasi, many deer flocked around him to hear the sermon.
Is it good luck to see a deer?
In Japan, definitely yes. In Nara, large numbers of deer roam around Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. A legend has it that a deity flew through the air on a white deer to Nara from a far-away place. This story has great cultural significance. It blends Shintoism, with its shamanic roots, and Buddhism. The sacred Sika deer are seen as messengers of the gods and auspicious omens.
This brings me to the tutorial at hand. I have used a famous Japanese painting of the white deer of Nara as color inspiration.
Unconscious inspiration for my deer drawing
But first, I want to share a story. Sometimes, when we do creative work, we don’t know the origin of the inspiration. A few years ago, I illustrated a coloring calendar for a Norwegian publisher that sold 11.000 copies. One of the illustrations featured three deer. When I drew it, I was inspired to draw a peculiar plant on the back of the deer. And a sun above it. I wondered why, with no obvious answer.
Sometime later, I saw some beautiful artwork of the famous flying deer of Nara (the image above with color swatches next to it). The deer has a sacred Sakaki tree on its back and a disk with five Buddhist deities nesting in the tree. Mystery solved.
The thing is, I loved making this drawing. I have cherished memories of visiting Nara when our son was a small boy and we were living in Norway. Now, we live close to Nara and I visit every now and then. Nara Park is amazing with Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and friendly deer everywhere.
Watercolor tutorial of the deer animal spirit
The gentle spirit of the deer invites you to enjoy a quiet moment of mindfulness with watercolor. This tutorial is meant to be playful and it is easy to do. You can download my drawing as an outline in One Tree Art Club and trace the drawing (link to an article on how to trace onto watercolor paper).
I have picked up many colors from the beautiful Japanese painting of the flying deer of Nara (see image above). The white deer is the animal symbol of the grand Shinto shrine Kasuga Taisha.
When I started painting, I decided to select only four colors. I thought a nearly white deer was too light against a white background. As you can see I made the base color a bit towards green.
I show you how I mix colors to produce new ones. More or less of one color in the mix will change the result, so you need to experiment. Mix until you get colors that you love.
First, paint the area of the deer that will have the base color with plenty of water. This will make the paint flow nicely with an uneven concentration of pigment. Paint with the light green color.
Add a touch of other colors, such as brown, ochre, and moss to create more texture.
Now is the time to decide on the distribution of color to create a balanced composition. Wait until it’s completely dry to start painting.
Start with the strongest, dominant color. In this case, it’s terracotta brown. As I paint, I realize I prefer it to be more on the red side and add a bit of red to make it brighter. By giving the letter G and the antlers a strong color, they become natural focal points in the painting. Moss green takes second place.
Distribute brown and ochre.
You can animate the painting with playful placements of white dots and stripes. Just feel your way as you place these decorations. Use white gouache. This gives you a solid water-based paste rather than runny watercolor. Paint the white with a very fine brush.
Trace the outline with a sepia (dark brown) colored pencil. Draw gently with more colored pencils on the rest of the picture. This will highlight colors. You can also create some volume in the body of the deer with colored pencils.
And that’s it, all done. Have fun!