MAU Art & Design Glossary




The compass is a drawing instrument used for drawing circles and arcs. One of the two legs of the compass ends in a needle, which the user places gently on paper to keep the compass in place. The other leg has a writing instrument on its end. Using the stabilizing leg with the needle as an axis, the user rotates the compass to draw circles and arcs. Compass writing instruments range from drawing pens and pencils to pencil lead and mechanical pencils. Some compasses are designed to allow the user to change writing instruments.

In the Edo Period, the compass was sometimes called an enki or bunmawashi. Today, there is a variety of compasses available to choose from, large and small, which makes it easy to find the compass best suited for the circle you want to draw. If either or both of the legs has a joint, put them perpendicular to the paper when you make a stroke. To maximize stroke quality, make a full stroke with the compass in one movement without stopping or retracing. An extension bar can be attached to the compass to draw circles with diameters of up to approximately 25 cm. Drawing multiple circles with the same center may create a large hole in the paper with the compass needle. In such cases, a center disk can be very useful. A center disk helps protect the paper from holes and maintain an accurate center for your circles. Another tool for drawing circles is the circle template.

A divider is a tool similar in shape to the compass. The divider, however, has needles on both legs. The tool can equally divide straight lines, which can assist in making or transferring measurements. For example, you can take the measurement of areas difficult to measure with a ruler by opening the legs of the divider, placing each needle on both sides of the line, and then measuring the distance between the two needles.

Compasses can be purchased individually or in sets that have different sizes, multiple writing instruments to use the compass with, center disks, or extension bars. When purchasing accessories for the compass, check whether the makers and/or fittings are compatible with your device. Compasses are available for purchase at stationery stores and art supply stores.


  • Using a center disk helps prevent paper damage caused by needlesUsing a center disk helps prevent paper damage caused by needles
  • Attaching an extension bar makes it easy to draw larger circlesAttaching an extension bar makes it easy to draw larger circles
  • A divider has needles on both legsA divider has needles on both legs
  • Circle templateCircle template