Soothingly hypnotic to the eye, Celtic knot designs grace books, jewelry, and clothing around the world. These intricate knots are a beautiful addition to any piece of artwork, which makes learning how to draw Celtic knots something that many people attempt. Fortunately, there are methods that, while time consuming, can teach you how to draw Celtic knots with little previous drawing skill.
What Is a Celtic Knot?
A Celtic knot is a two dimensional, unending line drawing that weaves itself back and forth under and over. They were frequently used to decorate the pages of books, as well as tapestries and clothing. There are several different Celtic knot designs, beginning with the simplest Trinity knots, which cross each other three times, to incredibly intricate knots that cross each other hundreds of times. Knots can also be meant to stand alone, or they can be drawn as a border meant to wrap the edges of a page or cloth. When learning how to draw a Celtic knot for the first time, it helps if you have taken some drawing courses only to help you with your spatial awareness and balancing of the design. Otherwise, anyone can learn some fairly simple knots by following a set technique, and a little experimentation.
How to Draw Celtic Knots
Drawing Celtic knots is a very time consuming process. Even some of the more simple knots will take a couple of hours to complete properly. More intricate knots may take several hours or even days, particularly if drawing by hand. Taking a course in a computer program such as Illustrator can help speed up the process, because you can work in layers on the computer, rather than needing to draw and erase your many layers by hand, but even this does take time.
- Straight edge
- Pen or fine tipped marker
Making the Grid
Celtic knots are perfectly balanced and symmetrical, meaning that each side is even with the next. So to ensure that your knot comes out balanced, you will need to start by drawing a grid. Draw this lightly; you will be erasing it from behind your knot once you create it.
Begin by determining how big you want each curve or section of the knot to be. Remember that the more sections, the smaller they become unless you are working on a large surface. If you determine that each section will be approximately 1/2-inch wide, for example, draw a grid composed of 1/2-inch squares.
Creating the Diagonals
On top of your grid, you’ll need to produce diagonal lines. These lines will help dictate where the curves of your knot are going to lie. Lightly draw the diagonals on top of the grid, by beginning in the center of each box around the perimeter of the grid; do not start your diagonals from the point of a box, always work from the middle. Make sure your lines all fall at a 45 degree angle to your squares to divide them properly.
Creating the Curves
You should now have a grid that is overlaid with a set of diamonds, rather than a grid of straight squares. Using your compass, you will now create a series of curves going around the perimeter of the grid. Begin in the upper left corner of the grid, and start your first curve at the outside, left corner of the diamond. The curve will arch to the opposite corner of the same diamond. Keep arching your curves across the top, then continue around the perimeter of the grid.
Breaking the Grid
At this point, you will need to decide where you will break your knot. The breaks are the most important parts of the knot work, because they allow the pattern to show through around the empty space. A break is the areas where there are no lines, or where the lines turn and loop back over themselves.
Keep in mind as you plot your breaks that you knot must remain symmetrical. This means that if you plot a break three rows in on the left, you will need a matching break three rows in on the right. You can also place a break right in the center of the knot by breaking on either side of the center diagonal.
Plot your breaks as a heavy line running vertically on the left and right of a diamond, or horizontally on the top or bottom. You can take a look at some finished knots to see where the breaks are and copy them if you like, or do some trial and error to try and find a break pattern that works for you.
Begin Your Knot
Once you’ve plotted your curves and your breaks, it’s time to start connecting them up to one another. Trace over your diagonal lines from a curve down to the breaks. When you reach a break, curve your line back again so it picks up the next diagonal. You can now erase your grid from behind to reveal the rudiments of the knot.
Thicken Your Knot
What you have now is a continuous, unbroken single line, which is not quite the same as a knot. What you need to do now is copy your original line and repeat it just outside it to the left and right. Taking a course in CAD or in Photoshop can help you learn to do this easily, but you can do it by hand if you work carefully. Once you create a double line knot, erase your original line.
Go Over and Under
Your knot is nearly complete at this point, and all that is left is to dictate how the lines will intersect each other. Knots go over and under one another, while yours at this point is a solid line. You will need to decide which section will go over and which under to complete it.
Start anywhere on the knot and begin following the line. When it intersects with another line, determine if you want it to go over or under. Either is fine for the first intersection. Once you make this intersection, you will now need to alternate over and under for each of the following intersections on the rest of the knot. Erase any unnecessary lines.
Finish Your Knot
Your knot is now complete, and only needs to be traced over with pen or marker if you have not been working on a computer. You can use this technique to create nearly size of knot, and once you have created a few, you may want to start branching out into creating your own unique patterns and placing your breaks in different areas. You can also use this technique to try and recreate any knot you see; just place the knot on a grid to see where the breaks lie.
Create Some Intricate Knot Work
Learning how to draw Celtic knots takes a great deal of time and patience. Don’t be surprised if you need to erase a few times when creating your design, since you ultimately need to be able to visualize your knot before you draw it in order to know exactly where to place your breaks for the best effect. While this method of drawing the knots is fairly time consuming in each step, no step is so difficult that you would be unable to learn it or have difficulty mastering it.
If you have trouble with the many layers involved, consider using tracing paper and or a light table and working on multiple sheets of paper at a time as you learn. You can also make good use of a computer program the same way. Start practicing your drawing skills and start drawing some Celtic knots of your own and see what you can produce.