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Drawing Boats and Ships
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Drawing Boats and Ships

by Yngve Edward Soderberg

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Any artist who loves the beauty of nature and is drawn by the majesty of the sea will want to try sketching boats and nautical scenes. American painter Yngve Edward Soderberg, who spent much of his career mastering this art on the Mystic coast of Connecticut, was known for his breathtaking maritime art. In this concise guide, he makes it look easy with


Any artist who loves the beauty of nature and is drawn by the majesty of the sea will want to try sketching boats and nautical scenes. American painter Yngve Edward Soderberg, who spent much of his career mastering this art on the Mystic coast of Connecticut, was known for his breathtaking maritime art. In this concise guide, he makes it look easy with step-by-step instructions perfect for novices and anyone wanting to brush up on his drawing skills.
From sailboats and dinghies to cruisers and whale ships, Soderberg shows how to observe and draw all that is seaworthy. Enhanced by expert commentary, over 100 illustrations include gulls, buoys, lighthouses, water surfaces, skies, clouds, and more. He even demonstrates how to sketch a boat's crew in action and offers valuable tips on perspective. Easy to follow, this essential guide helps hone all the valuable skills needed to create beautiful nautical compositions.

Product Details

Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Art Instruction Series
Product dimensions:
7.90(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Drawing Boats & Ships

By Yngve Edward Soderberg

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14631-7



Before going into the drawing of various types of boats, it is important to know how to arrange the subject within the four sides of your paper.

A marine subject is usually more suited to a horizontal than a vertical picture, due to the long line of the horizon. A peaceful and quiet marine subject is best expressed by long horizontal lines.

Action is shown by diagonal lines. This fact will be helpful to you in drawing sailboats that suggest speed. More wind on the sail will heel the boat at a greater angle to the perpendicular.

To give greater emphasis to the violent action of the boat use an opposing angle, such as a buoy or a cloud.

Here is an example suggesting speed by having the boat heading out of the picture. A balance can be achieved by placing one or two smaller objects near the edge of the opposite side.


The center of interest is created by the opposing diagonal lines leading the eye to the buoy and the figures in the nearer boat. The boats have rounded the buoy and are heading for the next windward mark. This maneuver is called "tacking to windward."

Poor Composition

Avoid placing the horizon in the middle of your composition. The boat in the center balanced by two clouds is very uninteresting.



A sloop is the most common type of sailboat. It is recognizable by its one mast, mainsail and jib. The mainsail is the large sail, which is set on the mast, and is usually three- cornered, known as a Marconi rig. The jib is the small sail forward of the mast.


A schooner is a boat having two or more masts. The mainmast is aft of the foremast and carries the larger sail. This type of boat is not so fast as a sloop, but is ideal for cruising. The helmsman usually steers by a wheel rather than a tiller.


A yawl has two masts, and the smaller one, called the mizzenmast, is astern of the helmsman. It is a popular rig for both cruising and racing, as it carries a large sail area which can be reduced to a minimum in rough weather. In this angle the sails form an interesting curve which breaks across the straight line of the mast.


A ketch has two masts, the mainmast being forward and a relatively tall mizzenmast forward of the helmsman. This is the basic difference between the ketch and the yawl. It is ideal for cruising, as the sheets can be handled from the cockpit.


Hull of the Star Boat

The Star has a deep 800 pound keel, which is necessary to offset the pressure of the wind on the sail area.

Star Boat

This is an International Class of racing boat that originated in the 1920's. It was designed purely for racing and is still one of the most popular classes of boats in all the yachting centers of the world.

The Star Boat is very interesting to draw. The crew is a definite part of the hull as they climb out to windward.

Hull of a Twelve Metre

This shows the smooth lines of the underwater part of the hull. The deep keel is finlike in shape to cut through the water.

Eight Metre Class

The metric system of measuring the waterline gives the name to these classes of racing yachts, such as six, eight, ten, and twelve metres.

Notice the tall mast and the slender lines of the sails when they are trimmed in flat for windward work.

Twelve Metre Class

This class was used in racing for the America's Cup in 1958. The sleek hull with long overhang at the bow and stern makes for great speed through the water with the least resistance. The large jib is called a genoa jib and overreaches the mainsail. It has a tremendous pull and is used mainly in light airs.

International One-Design

This class is sailed by some of the most famous yachtsmen of our time. Sketching the buoy in the foreground dramatizes the act of approaching the buoy, which is often used as a turning mark of the course. Here again, the graceful lines of the sails are contrasted with the straight lines of the mast and stays.

Hull of Lightning

The hull of a Lightning has straight sides and forms a sharp edge with the V bottom. It uses a centerboard, which is lowered in going to windward and raised when sailing before the wind.

Lightning Class

The Lightning Class is another International Class which is very active. The boat carries a crew of three, who are kept busy when setting a spinnaker, as in the above sketch.

On the opposite page are two etchings of Lightnings. One is crossing the line cross- hauled and shows the crew on the windward rail. The other is a close finish of two boats with spinnakers set.


The 210 and 110 Class boats have elongated double-ended hulls. The short boom and large genoa jib are characteristic of these boats. The sails are well inboard of the long hull.

Snipe Class

The Snipe Class is the largest International Class of small boats. They are very popular on inland lakes and rivers as well as along the coast. These boats are interesting to draw as the crew is continually in action. In the sketch above notice how the action of the crew counteracts the diagonal line of the mast and sails.

Thistle Class

This is a very fast light type of boat that is gaining in popularity. It is a great thrill to sail a Thistle, especially with a good breeze astern. The boat starts to plane as the bow comes up and water moves under the hull. It takes a lively crew to handle a Thistle.


Chesapeake Bug-Eye

This boat has been a familiar sight on the Chesapeake Bay for over half a century. Primarily designed for dredging oysters, carrying cargo, etc., she has been refitted for pleasure sailing. Her characteristic two masts raked aft, clipper bow, and long, narrow lines in the deck are easily recognized.

Bahama Island Sloop

This boat is ideal for an artist. Her hull has graceful, rounded lines; the sails are often patched with odd colors; and the boat seems to be held together with old ropes. She is used for carrying fish and other products to the market place.

It was these boats that Winslow Homer made famous early in the century in some of the finest water colors ever painted.


Sketching the crew in action is often more interesting than drawing the boat. The crew, essential for the handling of any boat, provides touches of human interest.

Notes, like the above small sketch, will be helpful. If you depend on your memory of what happened, your sketch will be lacking in the convincing lines of action.

These sketches were made aboard the Danish training ship "Danmark." Men in the rigging, hauling in the line on the capstan, or heaving the lead when coming into a harbor, were interesting. Notice how the long lines of the rigging play an important part in the composition.

The days of the square-rigged ship have given way to our modern means of motor transportation.


Direction of Wind

The direction of the wind determines the set of the sails. The diagrams above show how the boom of the mainsail and the curve of the jib vary when sailing on different courses.

When sailing into the wind, the sails are close-hauled. The boat heels over in a good breeze, noticeable in the angle of the mast and the curve of the boot top.

With the wind on the beam, the sails are out further to leeward. The mast is more upright, and the sails have a fuller curve on the leech.

Sailing down wind, the jib is often replaced by a spinnaker. This is set free of the stays, and the windward end is held in place by a spinnaker pole, attached to the mast.

Gaff Rig

The gaff rig is not so common as formerly but is still used on several types of sailboats. The sail is rectangular in shape, as opposed to the more common triangular Marconi rig. Notice the three sets of reefing points for reducing sail in stormy weather.


The catboat has one mainsail, the mast being stepped well forward in the bow. It is shallow draft with a wide beam, making a comfortable type of day sailer.


Scows are sailed on bays and large inland lakes, where the water is comparatively smoother than the ocean. She has a square bow and stern. When heeled well over, the scow sails on her beam end, the beam acting like a keel. A double rudder and bilgeboards are used on both sides of the hull to keep her on her course. When reaching in a heavy wind, these boats have been clocked at sixteen miles per hour.


A nun buoy is red, even-numbered, and conical. It indicates that the channel is to port when entering a harbor.


A can buoy is black, odd - numbered and cylindrical. It indicates that the channel is to starboard when entering a harbor.

Lighted Bell Buoy

This type of buoy is used in deeper water. The clanging of the bell through a heavy fog is a sailor's delight.


Buoys are highway signs on water. They are important to navigation and should be included as a secondary interest in what might otherwise be an empty seascape.

Gong and bell buoys may be any color, depending on the location of the channel. They are usually placed at entrances to channels or harbors.


If you live near the water, you will find that lighthouses are fascinating subjects to draw. Their function is to guide boats; therefore they have a definite part in marine art.

They usually are situated on a high cliff or out on a lonely island. In sketching them try to show the bleakness and severity of form and color.

This sketch is typical of many lighthouses marking a reef along the coast. If you are in a small boat near the level of the water, the cylindrical forms will appear more convex at the top than lower down. This helps create the feeling of height.


In drawing power boats the same principles apply as in drawing sailboats. Look for the long lines that express the character of the boat. The elongated figure 8 is noticeable in the sketch at the left.

Sport fishing boats appear very smart with their long outrigger poles. The graceful curves should be stressed in your drawing.

Also note how the action of the crew creates a feeling of suspense which supplies an exciting center of interest.

Boats have been streamlined along with our present-day automobiles and airplanes. Notice how the raised portions have slanting windshields to cut down on wind resistance. The hulls are designed to cut through the water with the least disturbance. When drawing people aboard a boat, remember to scale them down in size so as not to dwarf the boat.

Outboard Cruiser

The speed of the boat can be emphasized by strong, forward lines. You can also create the feeling of speed by showing the boat leaping out of the water.

Outboard Runabouts

The oval shape of the outboard runabout is important in its design. By using circular forms in the figure you also achieve the effect of making the pilot part of the boat.


These boats travel so fast that it is only possible to get a fleeting impression. Only draw the most essential long lines. Try suggesting speed by showing a lot of spray as though it were jet-propelled.

Sport Cruiser

The point of view is important in drawing boats. Try to avoid a direct profile which may appear too rigid. Draw them making a graceful curve or coming toward you with their bow cutting through the water.

Water Skiing

This popular sport is fascinating to watch and to sketch. Study the well-timed movements of the skier and the figure 8 curves he makes as he swings from side to side. Attention can be focused on the skier by isolating him at one side, thereby balancing the composition.

When looking down on a boat, the horizon will appear in the upper part of the picture. The horizon is in the lower part when looking up at a boat.


This is a combination type of motorboat and sailboat. It may be rigged as a sloop, yawl, or ketch, depending on the size of the boat.

Motor sailers are used mainly for cruising, so comfort is more important than speed. In drawing them you will notice that the masts are short in proportion to the hull.


Fishing is a universal occupation. The various kinds of boats present interesting shapes to draw. Fishermen are friendly people and like to watch an artist sketching their boats.

These sketches were made with a felt pen. A felt pen enables you to get a quick sketch with rich contrasts ranging from black to light gray. Leave plenty of white paper showing or your sketches will become too "busy." Always simplify, leaving out any unnecessary details.

Friendship Sloop

This sketch of a Friendship sloop was made at Friendship, Maine, where these boats were built many years ago. Originally they were used for fishing. As power boats replaced the sailboat for fishing, the Friendship sloop was eagerly sought for conversion to pleasure sailing.

They have a clipper bow which makes them distinctive from other boats. They usually are gaff-rigged and carry a large sail area.

The lines of the rigging in the sketch form a pyramid, creating a feeling of stability and repose while the boat is lying at her mooring.

The dragger is used by commercial fishermen. The name is well suited, as the boat drags along the sea bottom a large net which is weighted down by heavy boards.

Hauling in the net is back-breaking work. Do not hesitate to exaggerate, either by distortion or by forcing the lines of action, in order to bring out your point of interest.

Gulls always are hovering above a fishing boat, looking for scraps of fish.

Shrimp Boat

Shrimp boats are found in Southern waters and especially in and around the Gulf of Mexico. The boats are painted bright colors, orange and blue predominating. They have a platform protruding over the stern.

If sketching in tropical waters, be sure to make sketches of the interesting cloud formations. They build up in huge perpendicular forms rather than in horizontal shapes.


For many years Nova Scotia has been famous for its fishing schooners. The best known of these was the Bluenose. The boats go out to the Grand Bank for cod and are away from home for months at a time. Each fisherman has a dory which he paints in a color to differentiate it from those of his mates. The dories are stacked one in another on the decks.

In this angle the figure 8 is very noticeable in the sheer of the deck line.

WHALESHIP "CHARLES W. MORGAN" at the Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Conn.

The last of the old wooden whaleships is located at Mystic, Connecticut. Mystic presents a rare opportunity to see and sketch the ships and boats of former years.

The whaleship was wide of beam and slower than the clipper ships that were used for carrying passengers and cargo. Gunports were painted on the hull in the hope of scaring off pirates.

Before drawing a full-rigged ship under sail, make a study of ships in order to put down the essential lines in your drawing. It is only by knowledge of your subject that you will create or invent interesting interpretations.

Whaling Longboat

This is a very shallow double-ended boat. Whales were harpooned from these boats.


Gulls are the acrobats of the air. If you take a boat trip or a ferry ride, you will have a wonderful opportunity to sketch the gulls that follow the boat. Study their action in gliding on the wind, whirling about, dipping into the water for food, or banking on turns like jet planes in formation. Your sketches will be valuable later on for adding interest to a marine painting.


Do not have gulls following a pleasure sailing boat. Do not draw gulls flying upside down as in the left side of the diagram.


Gulls are always around a fishing boat. Put some in the foreground so they form a part of your composition.


In drawing a small boat the figure is important because a person is usually the only means of moving the boat. Sculling is a method of propelling a boat with one oar. It is done with a graceful balance of the body and arms with the least amount of effort.

Here is a common rowboat. The man raking for clams makes an interesting scene as he sits in the stern of the boat, causing the bow to rise up out of the water.


Along the coast you will find fishing shacks to sketch. Here the fisherman will be found mending his nets, making lobster traps or working on his boat.

Look for an interesting point of view before starting to sketch. You will find it advantageous to look up at the docks which loom above when the tide is low. Or you may want to look down on a quiet harbor with the shacks at various angles to the harbor.


Tugboats have always been favorite subjects for artists. Tugboats are built for heavy work, and your treatment of the subject should give the impression of power and strength. Being very heavy, the boats' deck line is low on the water with a sharp upward curve in the bow.

The superstructure and the deck line have the reverse curves typical of the elongated figure 8. The circular form is repeated in the life preservers and in the old tires tied to the sides.


Excerpted from Drawing Boats & Ships by Yngve Edward Soderberg. Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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