Tanned Deer Hides Make Artist’s Canvas

Russ Peterson has been drawing and woodcarving for as long as I can remember. He has always enjoyed doing wildlife art, but his favorites are eagles, ducks (canvasbacks), and deer. Russ is my grandfather — this is his story.

Starting out with oil paintings and black and white drawings with pens, his interest grew later into woodcarving. Several beautiful pieces, including birds and ducks, have been created after many long hours of skilled knife work. But he’s also a talented painter, and once created a beautiful moose scene on a moose antler for my mother.

Being friends with the owner of a tannery near town, grandpa had visited the shop, which sparked an interest, giving him different ideas about what people had done with hides. There were some deer hides that had branding on them — that gave him the idea of drawing directly on the deer hides.

The shop owner told him that — if he would be willing to try hide artistry — he (the shop owner) would supply the hides and sell them in his shop. Grandpa agreed. So experimentation began on small pieces of hide.

It took him a while, but he found the right pens to use that wouldn’t bleed into the hide, but also flowed properly on the rough surface. Additional challenges included the pens clogging up with  particles from the hide.

After a couple of small drawings, he moved on to a full-size deer hide. To begin a drawing, he stretches the hide across a piece of wood to first clean it. Once clean, the creative process begins by drawing the main attraction piece followed by the scenery and finally the background. If there are any bullet or arrow holes, he works them into the scenery so they are less noticeable.

Black ink pens were his initial tools, and he did several different hides using these simple instruments. He then incorporated white color into the drawings that really livened them up.

At first, the deer hide drawings feature simple black ink — but then white and other color paints are added on different areas of animal and scenery — like the white on a deer’s neck and ears.

Now, five years after completing his first hide drawing, he uses all kinds of color pens, pencils, and paint to produce some truly beautiful pieces of work. He’s painted almost everything: deer scenes, ducks, turkeys, trout, eagles, walleye, dogs, cabins, musky, pheasant and beaver.

While he’s sold a few hides at different locations, most of them are produced for family and friends. 

Yet even more remarkable than the drawings, is the man behind the artwork: I view my grandfather as a very humble man, who does not think of his deer hide creations as anything special. But to me, these are top notch pieces of art that are truly different from anything else. 

And even though he’s getting up there in years, he’s still going strong. His love for the outdoors, and the animals in them, are shown in his creations.

Having a deep respect and appreciation for God and all of His creation, my grandfather is a great man who has had a major impact on my life and all others who know him. I cannot think of a better way to pass on his love and appreciation for the outdoors than by having these hides to pass on to my children. And by sharing them with you.

To see more Russ Peterson deer hide drawings, visit grandson Jake Simon’s D&DH Photo Gallery! Or contact Jake Simon for more information.

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