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How to Use a Drawing Compass


Raise your hand if you think that the use of a drawing compass is something very intuitive.


In April 2018 I had the privilege to attend an Islamic geometry course in Fez – Morocco.

It was the first time I traveled outside of Europe and alone. The culture, the people, and most importantly, the FOOD was something I will never forget.

I decided to attend that course because I wanted to meet other fellow artists but also to see how the teachers teach.


That was the first time I realised that the use of the compass is not something as intuitive as I thought.

Some people didn’t even know how to handle it. Although I think that’s totally ok and normal, it made me think how, when you hit a certain level, you forget how you started and the struggles you went through.

In last week’s blog post I talked about the various types of compass. Today I’m explaining to you how to use a drawing compass in this short but informative blog post.

Are you ready to learn something new? Here we go.



Close your eyes, think of a compass: yes, that’s a spring compass.

The classic compass comes with a steel point in one leg and an HB lead in the other leg.

I don’t know if it’s correct to call it “leg” or “arm” …anyway take off the lead and throw it away in the trash bin, out of the window, swallow it, I don’t care. Just don’t use it.

HB lead wears out so quickly, and your circle would look fat and smudgy. And your accuracy would be … oh no, accuracy wouldn’t exist at all.

Now you have 2 options:

  • take apart the leg where the lead is (there is a little screw 2-3 cm above the lead) and replace it with a universal adapter for pencils. Then put the mechanical pencil inside the adapter

  • if you don’t have the adapter, it’s ok to use the compass as it is, just sharpen the lead with a lead sharpener.

In both cases, use a 2H or 4H lead which is harder and more precise.

Adjust the steel point to be the same length as the lead point. Lean the steel point against your forefinger to help you point the compass on the paper exactly where the point is. 

Always keep the compass vertical to the paper as it may affect the dimension of the circle.

Use both your hands and rotate the compass clockwise to draw the circle. Using both hands will prevent the compass from slipping away.



The drop bow compass is my favourite compass as it allows me to draw super tiny circles.

This compass is different from the spring compass because there’s one leg that looks like a needle or nail, and the other one is curved to the inside, rotating around the “needle” leg.

There are 2 types of drop bow compass:

  • drop bow compass with a lead

  • drop bow compass with a pencil adapter

I suggest you do the same as per the spring compass – use a 2H or 4H lead.

When you use this type of drawing compass it’s EXTREMELY important to keep the compass vertical because any variation in the direction of the compass will affect your circle. Try yourself.

Once you have pointed the compass, keep the forefinger on top of the “needle leg” and rotate the other leg around it to draw the circle.



The beam compass is composed of a long bar and two “legs”: one with a steel point and the other one with a lead point. The lead point is fixed while the steel point can be moved to set the radius.

Also, in this case, be sure to use a 2H or a 4H lead.

Once you point the compass use both hands to rotate it. Place one hand on the leg with the steel point and rotate the leg with the lead with the other hand.

It may seem bulky, but this compass is the most accurate.



I don’t have this divider but I saw Sharmina Haq using it in her Insta stories a long time ago. You can watch her tutorial here.

With closed legs loosen the top screw. With the opposite screw move the axle up or down to the scale-mark of your choice. Tighten the top-screw.

Open the legs on the wider side to the radius of your circle. The opposite side will cut the circumference in equal sections. 


If you are more of a visual person, I’ve created a video tutorial where I show you how to use a drawing compass and my tips to being accurate. You can watch the video here.


If you want to know which compasses I use, check my supplies list here


***Affiliate disclosure: This blog post contains affiliate links which means that I may earn a small commission – at no extra cost to you. This helps to support my work so that I can continue to make valuable free content for you.***


How to Use a Drawing Compass

April 16, 2020

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  1. Shazia Khawaja says:

    Just what I was looking for. Thank You Sandy! I did not know that there is a lead sharpener also. Hmm! Will have to get one of those. Always wondered how you draw so fine with a drop bow but then I saw one of your instagram posts where you have one with a pencil adapter.

  2. Leyla says:

    It would be great to have some pictures of each in your blogpost!

  3. Thank you Sandy! That was very informative. Visual of these compasses would be such a bonus.

    • Sandy Kurt says:

      There are pictures in the previous blog with a description of each compass. Plus, as mentioned in the last sentence here, I’ve saved video tutorials on my stories on Instagram to show you how to use each compass

  4. Amina says:

    Great post! It would help to have pictures of each type of compass. Thank you!

  5. Vivien Adler says:

    Thanks Sandy – I don’t quite get the proportional divider, but I’ll check your Instagram tutorial and hopefully that will set me wise.

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