Viking Shield

When does painting a shield begin to mesh with costuming?  Of course, we all know that a shield was often critical to identifying one on the field of battle, but how does a girl who primarily sews end up painting a Viking shield?

When she gets a blank shield and buys paint.

A while back, I traded Chris, one of the blacksmiths in Skjaldborg, a pair of hand-stitched wool pants for a couple of shields for myself and Kyle.  Of course, they were plain, and I needed to come up with a design to paint on mine.  Kyle announced almost immediately that his shield was going to be ‘plain green and yellow’.  I, being a woman, wanted something prettier than a plain shield and couldn’t decide on colors.  I had an Old Norse quote I wanted to put on my shield ever since I first found the quote, but other than that. . .  How to decorate?

I eventually decided I wanted to do some sort of a Norse serpent design, similar to those found on the many runestones throughout Scandinavia, and to put my runes with my quote in the main body of the snake.  So, I then researched the type of art common during the time I portray as a Viking, the Jellinge Style, and came up with several pictures of runestones, brooches, etc.  It was all very confusing.  So, I picked one, with a fairly common style of snake head, ignored the rest, and just went from there for my own design.  After all, most Vikings who carved runestones made their own designs according to the shape of the stone, and there were no set patterns for certain shapes, so why should it be that way for a shield?

Shield Design

Shield Design

Once I had this design figured out, which took me about an hour and a half, I copied it onto my blank shield.  That took about another hour.  I am definitely not good at drawing, so it takes a long time to draw things and get them to what I want them to look like.  Also, in the course of this day, (it was a Thursday), I bought paint for our shields– hunter green and pale yellow for Kyle’s shield, and a dark red and blank for mine, since I was also going to use the yellow.

Saturday, we decided to paint them:  (You can faintly see my drawn-out design.)

Ready to Paint

Ready to Paint

And after edging every single line with red:

Edged Out

Edged Out

This all took about two hours.  I had started out with a decent size brush, but ended up have to switch to a smaller art brush in order to not make a mess of every line on the shield.  So, I just used the little brush to edge things out and then painted in the larger areas with the larger brush.  (This is about the time Kyle finished painting his shield, actually, or about half an hour before I got done with the edging.  He stayed around and kept me company, though.)

Red Paint is Done

Red Paint is Done

(This was about the time I realized I would be out longer than I originally thought, being two and a half hours into painting, and went inside to change into a sleeveless shirt to avoid a farmer’s tan.  That didn’t work out quite like I thought it would.)

So now you can finally see the design in full, although the loops in the snake aren’t properly defined.  Next, I painted in the yellow:

The Snake is Yellow!

The Snake is Yellow!

The yellow paint kept getting a scum on the top, which Kyle had to fix for me by often closing the can of paint and shaking it.  Also, the scumminess made me have to go inside to wash my brush about every half hour.  So, I got done with the yellow about 5:30 in the evening.  I started the painting at 1:00.

Next step was to paint the black outline of the serpent and the runes.  I had to trace in the lines where the black paint should go where the loops intersected with a pencil, and I was ready.  This was the most tedious part of the whole project.

Black Outline is FINALLY Painted

Black Outline is FINALLY Painted

I started the black outline outside, but after a while I realized two things:  first, I was sunburned just on my right side, due to the positioning of the sun and the fact that I had not moved from that place by our front deck all afternoon.  Also, I was getting cold.  When an old sweatshirt still didn’t warm me up, and my hand locked up and wouldn’t move anymore, I figured I was too cold and hungry to keep going outside, so I packed everything up and went inside.  Kyle cooked supper, and I kept painting on the kitchen floor.  After supper, the outline was finally finished, and I penciled in the runes to check the spacing.  Then, I painted the runes, which took another hour.  I finally finished about 10:30 at night, when all was said and done.

Finally Done!

Finally Done!

The runes read:  “Munr ver harðri, hjarta bitari, hugr ríkari, síðan várr þrek minka.” and “Kristr em herra.”
“The mind must be the harder, the heart the keener, the spirit the greater, as our strength grows less.” and “Christ is Lord.”

Now that is done, I can continue with my other projects, and start hoping that the men of Skjaldborg don’t see fit to destroy my shield in the first battle it is in– not that battle scars are a bad thing by any means!

Oh, and Kyle’s shield:

This one only took a little over an hour. . .

This one only took a little over an hour. . .

Much easier, and still cool.  Maybe my next shield will look more like this. . .

Published in: on May 19, 2010 at 3:19 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog
    with my myspace group? There’s a lot of folks that I
    think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know.
    Many thanks

    • That would be fine! Thanks for asking!

  2. I like your dragon shield design. Would you mind if I copied it to render in leather? I will, of course, credit you and link to wherever you’d like.


    Michael Doughty
    Owner/General Manager
    Saxon Shield and Leather

    • You can certainly use my design, as long as you fully credit me and mention that I make Viking clothes to go with said shield. I feel quite flattered that my shield design is so popular!

  3. Awesome shield! But….Christ is lord?? Seriously? This is a Viking shield. Surely Hail Thor or something 😟

    • There were many Christians in Scandinavia during the second half of the Viking age (which I portray). We find lots of crosses in graves. Most Swedish runestones were raised by Christians as well, and often include prayers or crosses in the design.
      I am a Christian in real life also, and it would be very much against my beliefs to put “Hail Thor” on any of my Viking items, even as a joke.

  4. did you prime your wood first or just paint it? Also, what kind of paint did you use?


    • I did not prime my shield before painting, and I just used the latex exterior paint you can get in pre-mixed little cans at Menard’s.

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