How to Draw a Viking Ship

By Rod Kuster
Viking ship designs vary according to their purpose.

Viking ships are some of the most amazing vessels ever created. Vikings used them to travel vast distances for exploration, war and trade. Viking ships arrived on the shores of North America long before the continent was discovered by any other Europeans. The Vikings built various types and sizes of ships. Some, with large holding areas on deck, served as trading vessels. Others were attack vessels with room for large raiding parties. Regardless of the type and style, Viking ships always make for fascinating subjects to draw and paint.

Set up your drawing area where there is sufficient light. Gather the materials you will need. Place your reference image so that you can easily view it as you work. Use various images to establish reference points of detail and to help you compose your drawing. You may want to go with what you see on one image, or combine several elements from different photographs.

Decide on the final positioning of the Viking ship and the objects around it. Include a coastline or islands, or compose the drawing with the ship on open water. Start by drawing items that are most distant, including the horizon, sky, clouds and the ocean itself. Continue by drawing the outline of the hull above the waterline. Overlap the Viking ship in front of the horizon to create depth by showing relative distance. Check that the size of the hull has the right proportion and placement in relation to the horizon.

Start drawing the circles on the side of the hull to represent the row of Viking shields along the gunwale or upper line of the hull. Place them so that they are centered on the gunwale, leaving half of each shield to rise above it as semicircles. Outline the dragon's head at the bow and tail at the stern. Keep your lines running in the correct perspective. Remember to use more texture and detail as you move forward in the drawing. The farther away an object is in your drawing, the less detail and texture it will have.

Finish the outline of the ship by adding the mast. Make the length of the mast 2/3 to 3/4 the length of the hull. Remember to leave out the mast in the area covered by the sail. Use a straight edge to draw the mast because even a slight error can be noticeable. Slant the angle of the mast if the ship is in motion. Outline the sail as it is positioned, including any folding and other markings. Using a sharp pencil, carefully draw in the rigging lines. Depending on your composition, make the lines taut or leave them loose. Use gentle curves in your lines to indicate a wind-filled sail.

Add texture to the hull, shields, sail, oars and rigging. Draw the figures sitting or rowing, depending on your composition. Draw these figures carefully, ensuring that they are to scale with the vessel. Use shading to accent highlights and shadows. Always keep the source of light coming from the same direction. Detail the clouds with flowing lines, and add texture to the water. Use the reference image to help if you have doubts. Draw in waves and signs of water displacement around the bow if the vessel is moving. Take a break and come back to clear your mind. Go with your first impression when determining additional changes until you are satisfied.

About the Author

Rod Kuster has been a writer and editor since 1995. His work has been published in "Computer Magazine," "Boom Magazine" and Shock Media. Kuster holds a B.A. in international development studies from the University of Dalhousie.