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DIY Distressed Deer Head Silhouette Rustic Wood Sign

Updated on December 12, 2014
Rustic Reindeer on Distressed Wood
Rustic Reindeer on Distressed Wood | Source


  • Deer stencil
  • Salvaged boards (or new ones that we can distress)
  • Sandpaper
  • Old paint brush and/or sponge/stencil brush
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Steel wool
  • Craft paint: Espresso & Suede
  • Optional: White chalk paint, Valspar Lime Wash, Satin finish spray lacquer

OH DEER! Making my Rustic Reindeer Christmas Signs

We're on the countdown: only two little weeks until Christmas! My rustic d├ęcor obsession is still going strong, so I was beyond excited to try out my new cutting machine on a vintage-y, Christmas-y project.

I talked about my older cutting machine, the Cricut Create in my last post:

Deer stencil
Deer stencil | Source

Making the Cut: Cricut Love

I swiped my first cutting machine, the Cricut Create, from my mom, who uses it for scrapbooking. Although I found the software to be overly glitchy and clunky, the cutting machine served its purpose and I LOVED having the capability to cut multiple die cuts for my photobooth props and project stencils. I eventually felt too limited by the cartridge based system, with most of the images feeling excessively cartoonish for my purposes. Being a professional photographer, much of my time is spent in Photoshop, and I craved the capability to cut my own designs.

I was about two clicks away from ordering a Silhouette Cameo, when I found out that the most recent Cricut machine, the Cricut Explore, now features the ability to import and cut your own designs. After researching for a few more days, I found the lowest price on Amazon at $199.99, with free 2-day shipping.

My new toy arrived quickly and setup was pretty simple, once my PC decided to recognize the new machine. It connects to the computer just like a printer, with the same USB cable. I didn't opt for the blue tooth add-on that is sold separately. The web-based Cricut Design Space is much more powerful than the old Cricut Craftroom and enables you to work in layers, similar to the controls in Photoshop.

It was easier than I had anticipated to open my image and prepare it for use in the Design Space. Here's what I did (you can skip ahead to the next section if you already have a stencil, or have better drawing skills than this girl):

  • Open Photoshop and create new canvas (ctrl + n), set background contents to transparent.
  • There are tons of free printables on the inter-web, but for this project I used one of my custom brushes. Using a deer silhouette brush preset that I already had on hand, I used a large black brush to stamp the image on my canvas.
  • Save as .png.
  • From the Cricut Design Space, click "Create New Project"
  • Select "Upload Image" from the toolbar on the left, and choose the Basic Upload option.
  • Follow the prompts and click "Insert Image" when done.
  • Use the sizing handles to size and reposition the image.
  • Click the green "Go" button.
  • I used contact paper, cut to fit the 12x12 mat, and set the dial to "Vinyl."

The new new machine is much quieter and a bit faster than the earlier model I was used to. I was expecting some lines to be jagged or to need additional cutting, since I used an image that wasn't originally designed specifically for Cricut. I was pleasantly surprised when the cut came out perfect!

Apple cider vinegar & steel wool
Apple cider vinegar & steel wool
Espresso craft paint added to the vinegar mixture for added patina
Espresso craft paint added to the vinegar mixture for added patina
Prepping the boards
Prepping the boards
This guy likes watching paint dry. He doesn't get out much.
This guy likes watching paint dry. He doesn't get out much.
Distressing the new wood
Distressing the new wood

Distressing me Out

If you are fortunate enough to have a hunk of old barn wood, pallets, or fence boards in your life, awesome! Skip this stuff.

Today I am not one of the lucky ones and did not have any reclaimed wood on hand, so I fudged some. I picked up a 1 in. x 10 in. x 6 ft. Common Board at Home Depot, and had my super accommodating boyfriend chop it into smaller pieces. I used two 18 inch sections for this project.

To age the wood QUICKLY (in addition to salvaged wood, I also lack patience), I brushed on a mixture of vinegar and steel wool. Tip: Mix up a little extra and store in a mason jar to save time on your next project. The result is a very gray, weathered effect. I added a little of the Espresso craft paint to warm up the tone a bit and give the wood some richness.

Allow the board(s) to dry. I prefer to place them in direct sunlight, but I'm not above using a hairdryer. Once dry (or dry enough), give the wood a light sanding to get rid of lingering steel wool pieces. I gave a little extra sandpaper love to the corners and edges for added distressing.

Stencils cut from contact paper
Stencils cut from contact paper
My deer friend
My deer friend

Patience, My Deer

I was so pleased with the way it came out, I ended up using both parts of my stencil - the negative and positive, if you will.

Peeling them off was a little tricky and caused me to use up today's allotment of patience. Just go slow and make sure to smooth out all of the bubbles and wrinkles. Once they were stuck and smooth, I brushed a VERY light coat of watered down brown craft paint to prevent the white paint layer from bleeding outside the lines.

My petite paint parade
My petite paint parade
The deer are here!
The deer are here!

When What to my Wondering Eyes Should Appear . . . Two Tiny Rustic Reindeer

For the next step, I had originally intended on using white chalk paint. When I opened the jar, it looked too bright white for today's purposes. I grabbed some craft paint in Suede to warm up the color, and threw in a dab of textured lime wash for good measure. The lime wash allows the wood to show through, dries crazy fast, and it's chalkier than chalk paint. It sands really well if you're going for rustic. I happened to have it on hand, but the type and color of the paint won't make or break this project. Go crazy, use whatever you have . . . do what makes you happy!

It really only takes a couple tablespoons of paint. I put a quarter-sized puddle of paint on a plate from each of my three paints, LIGHTLY dabbed my brush in each, tapped on a paper towel and gingerly brushed the paint on the wood. I didn't want a sold coat of paint, just enough to flesh out our rustic reindeer. Pay special attention to the delicate edges of your stencil - use a light hand on antlers and edges so as not to rip or move the stencil.

By the time I was done with my second board, the first was almost completely dry. Now's a good time to remove the contact paper or stencil.

Dasher, Dancer?
Dasher, Dancer?
Prancer, Vixen?
Prancer, Vixen?
Comet, Cupid?
Comet, Cupid?
White deer
White deer
Brown deer
Brown deer

I'm Feelin' Punny

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but miniature antlers, and two tiny rein-deer,
with a little old paint brush, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Rus-tic.

Satin lacquer clear coat. A matte clear coat would be great, too, but I'm going to go with "no" on gloss for this one.
Satin lacquer clear coat. A matte clear coat would be great, too, but I'm going to go with "no" on gloss for this one.

Protecting my Deer

You can totally stop here if you have a life.

So I kept going.

I gave them both an all over light sanding to bring out more of the wood grain under the paint. The edges and antlers were a little too crisp for my taste (rustic and crisp lines don't mix). I roughed them up a bit, feathered and faded. I went over the edges of the board to sand off any paint that made it all the way to the edge.

Once again, totally cool to stop now.

I sprayed a protective satin clear coat on both boards. Not entirely mandatory, but the lacquer will protect our "deer friend" and add bring out a little bit more detail in the wood and brush strokes.

Done deer.
Done deer.

I might throw some bows on these bad boys to up the Christmas factor, but I think I could live with these little dudes year round. I'm quite fawn'd of them.


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    • StephieJean profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thank you! Despite my wordy article, the project was really fast and easy. I think spent more time on the photos! :)

    • Ebower profile image

      Erin Bower 

      3 years ago from Georgia

      Love this and love all the pictures!


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