Celtic knotwork art techniques: INKING IN

Basic layout for Celtic knot to be inked in

Your design is laid out; now it’s a question of using some simple Celtic knotwork art techniques for inking in the background.

Knotwork art is both strong and delicate. You’ll probably need a thick pen for filling in and a thin one for outlining.

Precision of line is important. It helps to pay attention to the edges of the shapes you’re filling in and how they relate to the cords. These negative 'cut-outs' in the background define the overall look and feel of the knotwork, so they should be exact and regular:

Illustration of 'negative space' in a simple Celtic knot

At the same time, if you pay too much attention to the negative spaces alone, it’s easy to for the cord thickness to wander and the curves to start kinking. Celtic knotwork art is about balancing opposites. Try to stay evenly focused between the black background shapes and the white cords to keep them smooth. Watch out at the crossing points in particular. Things can skew easily there.

At the same time that you’re filling your Celtic knotwork art with ink or colour, why not put a thin border all the way round to link up the edge pieces?

Once you’ve inked in all the way round, you should have something like this:

Now, ink carefully along all the lines marking the crossing-points of the cords. Be careful not to let these outlines intrude on the width of the upper cord. Any Celtic art technique must first of all preserve cord smoothness and cord width.

So the black line showing where cords cross should run along the outer edge of the upper cord. In other words, it intrudes if anything into the space of the cord:

Illustration of crossing points being inked in on an example of Celtic knotwork art

You’ve now created an example of Celtic knotwork art.

For a final finishing touch, give the piece an illusion of three-dimensionality. This is not really so much about how to draw Celtic knots as how to decorate them ... still, it’s worth that bit of extra time.

Go round each crossing point and add a little shading at the edge of the cord which goes under. I've used wash, but you could also use hatching or dot shading (with the thin pen):

Illustration of Celtic knotwork art having shading added to the 'underneath' cords

It’s fiddly and it’s very easy to miss an edge. It may help to remember that there are always two edges to shade at every crossing-point. Even on some of the original Celtic knotwork art, you can find places where a monk forgot some detail on a couple of lines, so don’t worry too much.

Once the shading's done, re-emphasise the shape of the cords. You can do this by drawing a thin line just inside the edge of the cord all the way round. In the manuscripts, the resulting central 'stripe' is usually coloured in. Also, if you like, add another thin line around the frame

Rub out any remaining pencil lines ...

And here’s your finished result!

Illustration showing a completely inked-in example of Celtic knotwork art

Congratulations! You now know the essentials of Celtic knotwork, and you should be able to look at any Celtic knot with a fair understanding of how it has been put together.

I invite you to play with different widths of panel, numbers of units and positions of breaks so you get a feel for how to manipulate the rules to create your own Celtic knotwork art.

For a few extra ideas you might like to return via the Celtic knotwork intro page.

Go back to Part 4 of Celtic knotwork design: BREAKS MAKE PATTERNS

Return from 'Celtic knotwork art techniques' to homepage