As did many other practicing artists of the time, Sharp sometimes created studies of different aspects of his planned paintings. Although he preferred to paint en plein air, or from life in his studios, at times he created these studies to aid in his compositions. This practice was long established in academic circles and Sharp likely learned the process during his time at the McMicken School of Design, the Cincinnati Art Academy, and in Europe where he attended academies in Antwerp, Munich, and Paris. In this sketch, two attempts at the figure can be seen, one that exists just as an outline of an antler and another nearly fully rendered deer head.
Sketch—Deer Head is particularly interesting in that it depicts an animal, a subject not typically undertaken by Sharp. Occasionally Sharp would paint horses in his scenes of Indian daily life, but rarely, if ever, did he only focus on an animal in a composition. More often, if an animal did feature in a painting, it served as a symbol that furthered the message of the entire canvas at large. For example, in Old Frontier Stuff (#288) Sharp depicts what appears to be a bison skull as the centerpiece of the still life. Here, the skull likely stands for the decline both of the bison and, by association, the Native American people. Additionally, both The Stoic (#302) and The Voice of the Great Spirit (#252) depict horse heads as part of their compositions. In these two paintings, the horse heads are symbols of mourning, aspects of the rituals and funeral practices performed for the dead.
Interestingly, all of these examples depict parts of dead animals, just as Sketch—Deer Head seems to do. While it is impossible to know, perhaps Sharp choose to depict dead animals for a few reasons; the first, because they related to the spiritual practices of the Native Americans he spent time within the Northwest and the Southwest and the second because they were easier to paint. Instead of attempting to paint an animal that might move at any moment, the experience of depicting a dead animal would be more like painting a still life composition. Either way, Sketch—Deer Head is an interesting example of Sharp’s work as he did not often depict animals, and seldom a deer, in final compositions.