My love for all things Celtic began in fifth grade, when I first saw Riverdance on PBS. I borrowed every Celtic music cassette tape (yep, you read that right: I’m old…) I could get from the public library and my sisters and I would pretend to be Irish dancers. We delighted in movies set in Ireland, like Durango, Waking Ned Devine, Far and Away, and The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns. I was over the moon when I discovered that a large chunk of my heritage is Irish, and I’ve since been to Ireland not once, but twice. So when I learned how to draw Celtic knots in middle school, they became my go-to doodle (when I wasn’t drawing horses). These knots look complicated, but once you know the secret, they’re actually quite easy to draw. So in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, please enjoy this quick tutorial on how to draw your own Celtic knots.
What You Will Need
To draw Celtic knots, you will need
- Graph paper
- Pencil and eraser
- Pen or marker
- Lightbox (optional)
- Contrasting color pen or marker (optional)
- Unlined paper (optional)
Step 1: Draw Your Grid
First, draw a staggered grid with an even number of lines and columns. Count two squares for each column and row, but they’ll share edges. My example above is 8 columns by 8 rows. You can easily count columns and rows by counting the dots along the outside edges. You don’t have to have the same number of columns and rows. You can have a 6×8 grid, for example. And you can have as many columns and rows as you want. The important thing is to have an even number of each.
Step 2: Draw Some Vertical and Horizontal Lines
Next, draw some vertical and horizontal lines wherever you’d like. Each line should span an even number of squares, with the dot in the middle of the line. You can be as creative as you want here. Each line will create a bend or twist in your Celtic knot. As you practice, you’ll learn how different configurations change the knot. You can make things symmetrical, or you can throw caution to the wind and just see how it turns out when you draw lines all willy nilly. Most of my knot doodles start with me asking myself, “What would it look like if I did this…?”
Step 3: Connect the Dots
For this step, start with connecting your unused dots with diagonal lines. DO NOT cross or connect with any of the vertical or horizontal lines you drew in the last step. You may have dots that aren’t connected, and that’s okay.
After you’ve drawn all of your diagonal lines, finish connecting your dots by drawing arcs between the dots near your vertical and horizontal lines. Pay attention to how the knot interacts with the lines that you drew. This is how you get loops, twists, corners, and waves in your knot. In the end, each dot should have four lines connected to it. See the diagram below for examples of what to do with the various lines you may have made.
Step 4: Over and Under
Next, close up the gaps by tracing over alternating dots as you follow along the line of your knot. Star at the intersection in the lower left corner. Make that over intersection by tracing over that dot (see diagrams below). Draw over one, skip one, draw over the next, and so on.
As you move along, you’ll start to see the over/under pattern Celtic knots are known for. If you finish a loop and your knot isn’t finished, just find the spot where an adjacent loop would go under the loop you’ve just drawn and follow the pattern from there. Or just remember that intersections that share the same grid line will always cross in the same direction.
I like to do this step in pencil in case I mess up. After you finish, trace over it with a pen or a marker, then erase your pencil marks, and voila! You’ve got yourself a Celtic knot!
If you’d like to see all of the basic steps in action, here’s a quick video to walk you through it:
Step 5 (Optional): Make it Fancy
If you’d like your knot to look extra fancy, you can make the lines wider and tighten up those gaps so that it looks like a continuous rope. To do this, I like to take a pen of a contrasting color and draw lines on either side of the lines I drew for the knot. I don’t worry much about gaps at this point since this is just a guide. My biggest concern is making sure I keep my lines relatively uniform all the way around the knot.
You can also use this step to adjust positioning and smooth out any bumps. For example, my original knot had wavy spots in each corner, but I decided I wanted that to be more round. I simply drew my guide lines where I wanted the loop to actually run.
Then I attach my grid paper to a lightbox and cover it with a fresh piece of unlined paper. If you don’t have a lightbox, a window with good natural light makes a great alternative. I trace over my guidelines, paying attention to the over/under points from my original knot.
And there it is: a Celtic knot that you designed and drew yourself. Now that you know the secrets, you can experiment with sizes and configurations and make all sorts of different knots. These knots make great additions to lots of different kinds of crafts, too. Trace them onto card stock and make St. Patrick’s Day cards. Use it as a pattern for embroidery. Grab some colored pencils and color it in. The possibilities are endless.
Just like those knotty loops. 😉
Share your celtic knots!
I would love to see the knots you draw. If you follow this tutorial, post your picture on social media with the hashtag #jestkeptsecret.
And if you liked this post, please share it! Thanks!