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March 2006

March 2006: Celtic Fey

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    March 2006
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    On Celtic Fairy Stuff
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    Plastic Fantastic
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    Preparing Your Canvas for a Watercolor Painting
  • Cosplay101:
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    The Sun, Part II

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  • Books and Taxes for Artists
  • Drawing Celtic Knots
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  • Drawing Celtic Knots
    by Amy Edwards

    Drawing Celtic knots can be a real pain in the behind. Itís true. But once youíve got it down, itís also a relaxing (even enjoyable!) and rewarding experience. This tutorial is a short introduction to drawing Celtic knots the way I do it--there are, of course, a million other ways, but I can only show you what I know. Therefore, Iím going to show you how to do two knots from this Celtic shield I drew a while ago:

    Also, as there are an infinite number of things you can do with Celtic knots, Iíve only shown you the basics here. This, however, should be enough to let you start experimenting on your own.

    Step 1. Drawing your grid

    Celtic knots are complex, symmetrical patterns, and you're going to need a grid. I set mine out on graph paper from a local office supplies store to make it easier for me. I would also normally draw this grid in very light graphite so that it would be easily erasable, but for ease on eyes, Iíve done it here in pen.

    You can see I have decided to make every three squares on the graph paper a place to have my diagonal lines meet. Iíve put an X there to mark it, and then used a ruler to put in the diagonal lines. You can see exactly where they meet by looking at the red ones, if all those lines confuse you! I have also placed a middle line to assist with keeping my knots a similar shape.

    It should be noted that the size of the original grid can be altered to change the size, or even the shape of your Celtic knot. It is even possibly to make an arched grid, to get a curving knot.

    An interesting thing to note is that in The Book of Kells, all knots were drawn by hand without the use of grids. However, close examination of the page shows tiny pin holes in places where important marks on the grid would have been, to assist them in getting their knots right.

    Step 2: The simplest Celtic knot--the braid

    Here we are going to draw a braid, much like the one you can see in the detail:

    Hereís where youíll start seeing how the grid can help us build a Celtic knot. Indeed, just trace over the lines like I have done in red, being sure to round the edges. You see we have the guidelines for simple Celtic knot: a braid! Again, I would usually do this in graphite, because this will be erased also.

    Step 3: Over and under and over again

    Next, youíre going to want to fill out your Celtic knot properly with a thick cord, rather than just a scribbly little line. To do this, youíre going to need to figure out where the cord goes over, and where it goes under. The rule to this is simple: Over and under. Always. At no place in your knot should a cord go over twice in a row.

    We may as well face facts here--youíre probably going to make mistakes with the over and under bit. It seems like such a simple task, but itís easy to get distracted and accidentally draw the wrong line in the wrong place. Feel free to curse at this point.

    You can see Iíve been blocking in the areas for a crossover using purple, and have then started at the right to fill in the rest of the knot.

    Step 4: Drawing the actual knot

    Here I have continued drawing the knot in, using the red middle line as a guideline and simply linking up the bits between where I blocked in the crossovers. It looks a mess at this point, but thatís ok. We will fix it.

    Step 5: Get rid of the rubbish!!

    Now we erase all the construction, and weíre left with a simple Celtic knot. The next bit would be to tidy it up to try to make the cord look the same thickness through, and to remove any little sketchy bits, ink it, and of course to color it anyway you like. You might also want to try a bit of a fancy something with the loose ends like join them together, so as to give your knot a proper start and finish.

    Many, many Celtic knots are built on the simple braid pattern, and are made more complex by adding more strands, or cutting breaks into them and making strands double back. Play around! The simple braid is the most important to learn simply because you can make so many variations on it to make an almost infinite number of different knots.

    Step 6: Something different

    Now weíre going to do the knot in the black border part of the shield, as shown below.

    For knots like this, try to get the knot youíll be wanting to draw (copying standard knots is the easiest way until you really start to feel confident and familiar with how knots work) and trace over it with a pen, or even with your finger, to see just how the cord flows.

    This knot uses two cords, with each making this pattern. We can also see that in the pattern, there is room for the knot, then one grid space for a crossover of the cords, before the next knot starts again. I have used red dots to block in the space each knot will use. Knowing how each knot will fall, and how much space it needs, is how you can scale your girds to make a knot to fit perfectly anywhere you may need it.

    Step 7: The other strand

    You see here how the second strand fits in--the same as the first, but upside down. If you are using a computer programs to construct knots, you can simply copy and flip the first strand. If, like me, you find it easier to do the knots by hand . . . well, sorry, but get drawing!

    Step 8: Over and over again

    Now youíll want to keep drawing the same thing over and over until you develop a strand long enough for what you want. You see here how there wasnít room for the last knot--planning your grid and measuring it out will avoid you being stuck like this in a picture, and having to start again. Hence the importance of those little red markers.

    Step 9: Blocking the crossovers again

    I faded the image here to look more like light graphite, so you can more clearly see the crossovers. Same as before--pick one strand and follow it, over and under and over again.

    Step 10: Fill in the rest of the cord

    Like before, fill in the rest, trying as best you can to keep the strand reasonably even the whole way through. Then erase all your building lines, and youíve got your sketched version of your knot!

    Now tidy it up, ink it, and itís done!

    Thereís far more that I could show you, but youíll discover it yourself by playing with the knots. Try things like ending adding fancy ends to your string of knots, or going in the blocking crossovers stage, and make it so that you have two strands in place of one, buy cutting one cord in half. Or try using your loose ends in a chine to connect to entirely different knots--a very effective way to build a stunning Celtic knot border.

    The more you build and experiment with knots, the more youíll discover about them, and the more advanced your knots will get. Hopefully, this has set you in the right direction to be able to start your experimenting.

    Amy Edwards
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