How to Draw Celtic Knotwork

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Introduction: How to Draw Celtic Knotwork

This tutorial will teach you how to draw your own celtic knotwork. It looks complicated. But it's really just structured doodling. I use a grid method, I think it's the easiest one that I've come across. The thing I love about celtic knotwork, is that it looks so much more creative than it actually is. That you can draw something that looks very intricate, just by following some simple rules. I'm not good at drawing, and I definitely can't dream up things to draw from my own imagination. Celtic knotwork, when it's done very basically like this, doesn't require much forethought.

You can copy my examples, or create your own. If it's your first time doing celtic knotwork. It might be easier to follow my examples whilst you're getting the hang of it.

There are a few basic principles that you need to know first, and then I'll show you how I followed them when I drew the knotwork above.

Step 1: Understanding the Basic Framework (Before You Draw Anything)

The foundation of this method is a grid. Inside each square, you'll end up having two strands that will overlap each other once.

Before you start drawing the strands, you make little notch marks to show where the strands enter or leave that square. (If you find this bit hard to visualise, come back to it after you've seen me use the method in the rest of this tutorial.)

There are only three types of notch marks that you use for the main body, and they are made at each point the grid lines intersect, making a "+".

  1. "X" marks: These show where two strands will cross over each other and make an x shape. (Be sure to always draw them this way round, you'll see why later.)
  2. Horizontal marks
  3. Vertical marks

One of these are drawn at every intersection

Step 2: Gather Your Tools & Draw a Grid

You will need:

  • pencil
  • piece of plain paper (or you can use lined, but the width of the lines will determine the size of your grid, and therefore the size of your knotwork strands)

Optional (these will make it look more polished):

  • ruler
  • eraser
  • pen
  • any colouring pencils you like


Now that you've got everything you need, draw a grid

I've chosen to draw a 6 x 6 grid. The squares are 1cm x 1cm each. Make sure to leave at least another square's worth of space on every side of your grid. I forgot to do that on mine, so some of the edges got a bit squashed.

Step 3: Start Drawing the Notches and Joining Them Up

I started by drawing notches for 6 intersections (circled in red). 3 vertical, 1 horizontal, and 2 cross. (You can draw whatever ones you like if you don't want to follow along. If you are copying mine, make sure to put them in the same place in the grid. If you're not copying mine, but don't understand mirroring yet, I'd still say to put your choice of notches in the same positions as mine in the grid.)

Then you start to draw your strands for squares that have notches on every corner. You do this by:

  1. Joining the two notches from the bottom left of the square, to the two notches on the top right of the square.
  2. Then in the same box, you join the two notches from the top left of the square, to the two notches on the bottom right of the square. Make sure to have this second strand go underneath the first strand. (Always do it this way round for each box, otherwise your strands won't be alternately weaving, which will spoil the effect.)

On my example, I only have two squares that have notches in every corner. So I need to add some more.

Step 4: Mirroring (and Drawing More!)

You don't have to mirror your design, but I prefer how it looks, so I'll show you how to do it:

Finding the mirroring line(s)

Before I drew any more notches, I wanted to make sure that my pattern would mirror itself. This is particularly easy with an odd numbered grid. This is because the lines where you (probably) want your design to mirror itself are already on the paper. It can help to mark it out by a thicker line. I've chosen both a vertical and horizontal mirroring line, and highlighted where they are on my photo in red.

Once you've established where you want your design to mirror, (through the centres of the grid here, but you can experiment,) you can start mirroring the notches you've already drawn. As an example, I've colour coded and labelled each set of mirrored notches, so you can see where the new ones are being mirrored from.

Step 5: Complete the Main Body of Your Knotwork

Now:

  1. Mark notches in every intersection, making sure to mirror them all if that's what you've chosen (we'll deal with the edges later, and I'll show how to turn each strand into two later)
  2. Join up the notches for squares that have notches in all four corners

For those following along, or for people who want more step by step pictures, I've included the rest of my pictures showing my progress. Note that for every notch I make, I'm making sure to mirror them both vertically and horizontally.

When you've finished that, put notches on the outside edges of your grid. If you're choosing x notches they will look the same, but for horizontal or vertical notches, you only need to draw the one that will fall inside the squares, so you're only drawing half of them. Have a look at the photos if you're not sure.

Step 6: Creating a Border: Joining Up the Edges

Now, draw extra grid squares around your edge. These should be half the width of the rest of the squares. This will be the framework for your border.

Once you have this in place, start joining up the edges. Personally, I like to have lots of leaf-like shapes. It's best to think ahead at this stage and have a plan where they will join up. It can sometimes be tricky to pair them up. This is where it comes in handy to have an eraser. Sometimes you're left with strands that are far apart. When this happens, I just join them up with a long strand with a couple of pointy edges where they thread back into the pattern. Also, if you're mirroring, make sure you mirror your edges too!

Step 7: Make Small Changes to the Design and Check the Weaving

At this stage I like to look at the design to see if there are any parts of it that I don't like. With this one, it turned out to be the little ovals in the four corners. It didn't scream celtic to me, so I linked up the strands to other strands by changing the notch that I had previously used. In this example, it had been a vertical notch, but I turned it into a cross notch. (It would also have worked with a horizontal notch). I then changed that at every corner, but only on the top edge and bottom edge (rather than mirroring it all the way around). This was only because I quite liked it not being four-way symmetrical.

I then decided that I didn't like long edges on the left and right, so I threaded the strands back into the design. For this, I turned the two vertical notches into x notches. It would have worked with horizontal notches, but I think the x ones look nicer in these sorts of places. Also note that I had to reverse the x notch, in order to maintain the over-under-over weaving pattern. Sometimes this happens in borders. And can happen if you do border-like things inside the main body of the design too.

At this point it's good to check that every strand weaves perfectly, that is - it's continually going over, under, over, under etc.

Step 8: Go Over Your Design in Pen (unless You Want to Turn Each Strand Into Two Strands, Like the First Thumbnail, I'll Show That Later)

You might want to make sure your strands are the same thickness all the way around, so compensate a bit when you're tracing the pencil. I don't bother with this too much though.

When going over my designs, I like to make the strands a bit thicker. Doing this can be a bit fiddly because you have to make sure you stop a bit before the strand goes under another strand. This is so that you can then make that strand thicker too.

Then erase your pencil design.

Step 9: Colouring in And/or Embellishing

There are lots of ways to finish your design. Here are just a few:

  • Colouring in, or drawing patterns on the strands (in one or many colours, many colours will make each individual strand stand out)
  • Colouring in the bits between strands
  • Only colouring half of the strands (personally I like doing this as it makes it look a little less flat, so that's why I've done this in the examples)
  • Turning each strand into two strands, like in the first picture. See below.

Turning each strand into two strands:

I did the pattern again so you could see an example of it finished differently. It takes a while, bit it makes the whole thing look a lot more intricate. It can be really easy to make a mistake with the weaving here (I made a few!), so try not to zone out whilst you're doing it if you can. It can also be really effective with this style to only colour in parts of it. I've given a few examples of this. Hopefully you can tell from the photos how I did it.

To try to give a written description - I treat each pencil line as if it's it's own strand. For this, I use a pen to draw a little to the left and right of each pencil line, and make sure that it weaves under and over every line it comes across. I find that it's best to do this in small sections, stopping when the strand is about to weave, and then doing the same thing with the other unfinished pencil lines around it. Hopefully you can see this is one of the photos.

Tip - we've been drawing the strands weaving over and under each other so far, but now you need to imagine that all the strand pencil lines are going across all of the strands. This is what I mean by weaving under and over all of the lines you come across - even with the lines that look like they are 'underneath' a strand. If you're finding this difficult, it might be best to draw all of the lines going 'over' all of the strands, rather than underneath them. This will destroy the weave effect for now. But you'll get it back when you start making each pencil line it's own strand. Let me know if you'd like a photo to show this!

Step 10: Tips for Going Further

  • Change the shape of your grid - You can experiment with warping your grid, or doing a border grid.
  • Get creative with mirroring - You can move the mirror lines wherever you want them, and experiment by adding more. They could be diagonal, or you could mirror the top right squares with the bottom left.
  • Introduce breaks in the main body - by connecting the two left notches in a square together, and the two right notches together. (Or top to top etc.) When doing this, you're basically treating those sections like borders. You may need to pay more attention to the weave though when you do this. It could need a bit of modifying.

That's it :)

Please let me know in the comments if any of this tutorial is unclear, or if you have any questions. I'll do my best to answer them and update the tutorial. I'd love to see your designs. Happy knot-working!

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    5 Comments

    This is great! Thank you for sharing it :-)

    excellent job on your first IBLE. Everything is very clearly explained and well documented. Keep up the great work!

    1 reply

    Thanks :)

    Very cool! I've never seen instructions on how to do this. Nicely done!!

    1 reply

    I'm glad you like it! I was trying to find a tutorial like this for someone, but I couldn't find the method I learned in a book years ago.