Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Let's Paint A Ceiling Compass Rose!

Before I started Cake Wrecks John and I were faux finishers for the rich and mostly-not-famous here in central Florida. For nearly 10 years we did every imaginable thing with paint, and I only wish I'd been a blogger back then, too, because you guys would have FLIPPED for some of the crazy stuff we did, ha.

This week we got to revisit our old lives with a quick ceiling mural, though, so I thought you'd like to see. In fact, I'll walk you through every step, so you can recreate your own!

First a snippet of the finished ceiling:

Pretty, right?

This is actually a recreation of a mural we did over a decade ago for a dear friend of mine, Tim. Tim just bought a new house, and hated the thought of leaving the compass rose in his bedroom behind so much that he asked us to come paint him a new one.

Pro Tip: Baker's scaffolding like this will make your life so much easier when painting a ceiling mural, and you can rent a rack right at your local Home Depot. It's easy to set up and not too expensive, so if you have a large ceiling, give it a try! I promise after one use you'll wonder where this thing has been your whole life.


Most times you'll be centering the mural around a fan or light fixture, like we are here. If not, just find the center of the ceiling and put a screw or tack in it there.


This trick never gets old. Be sure to hold the pencil at the same angle all the way around.
 Next shorten the string by 5 or 6 inches and trace an inside border.

Finally, shorten the string to a total of 6 inches, and trace a circle around the very center. You should now have three circles on the ceiling:

To make the compass points, mark the 4 corners on the outer circle, using the walls as a guide. Then use a long ruler to draw lines from each point to the edges of the center circle, as you see John's done here.

After your first four points, add smaller points in-between them that reach about 3/4 of the way to the outside circle. And finally, add even smaller points in between those, which reach roughly halfway to the outside circle. (I know that's confusing, so just reference my final photos to see the design more clearly.) It's OK to eyeball these distances, but make sure each point is the same length!

You'll be surprised how fast this goes. A couple of circles and connecting the dots, and in about 30 minutes you'll have your whole design traced out!


 Pretty sure John was growling and whistling at me here, lol.

Pro Tip: On my 2nd day I was having dizzy spells from stuffy sinuses, which made balancing on the scaffolding - which has no side rails - pretty scary. So I had John place a tall ladder beside the scaffold, so I could rest one hand on it to steady myself. This helps SO MUCH, and I recommend it for anyone new to scaffolding!

For our compass rose design you'll need at least 5 colors, though we used 6. (Our center blue is a tiny bit darker than our outer band.)

Please, my friends, I beg of you: DO NOT USE CRAFT PAINT. It never covers well, and the flat stuff isn't at all durable. These little tubs of Valspar, on the other hand, covered like a dream with one coat - and at $3.99 each, they only cost a little more than the cheap craft tubes. Plus - PLUS - they're custom mixed! So you can get any color match you like! Awwww yeeeeeeah.


John and I finished tracing the design and painting all the base colors in about 4 hours:

At that point we lost our light, so we came back the next afternoon so I could do the hardest part:

Edging the entire design in Liquid Leaf gold paint! This is tedious and impossible to get perfect on bumpy knock-down texture, but I did my best. The good news with ceiling murals, though, is that everyone will be viewing them from at least several feet away, ha.

 Once I finished the gold, John added the compass directions. He used our Cricut to cut the letter stencils out of card stock, then taped them to the ceiling and lightly stippled on the paint:

Ready to see the finished mural?


Important Note: I know it looks wrong because of this angle, but I promise the E and W are correct! We're standing underneath the compass, if that helps. Or imagine standing at the South point; the East would be to the right of North from there. Plus you can see we arranged the letters so they face inward toward the compass, so there's no "right" side up.

There will be a pretty nautical-style fan hanging in the center, but that won't be installed for several more weeks. The walls are going to be painted a warmer tone, too, which should match the compass better.

The gold leaf edging is the best thing about this design, you guys; it shines in the light and positively sparkles:

 So I highly recommend not skipping the gold.

Here's a peek into the room from the outside hall:

 Again, not the final wall color; those are getting painted soon. (I'll try to get a final photo later to keep you guys updated!)

I lay flat on my back to get this shot, while Tim made a crack about us giving him his "moral compass," lol. (Tim is a lawyer, and John teases him mercilessly about it.)

 Oh hey, and as luck and the room's orientation would have it, the compass direction are actually correct! Well, mostly. ;)

All told the entire mural took John and I about 7 hours to finish, and only cost about $40 in materials, not including the scaffold rental (since we own ours). It's a perfectly doable weekend project for anyone handy with a paintbrush, and I hope it inspires some of you to look UP for your next art project!


Hang on, before you go: I have a winner to announce! So congratulations, Sarah Lcsnano, you've won the double-sided Good Omens charm! Please e-mail me your mailing address so I can ship that out to you. :)


  1. It's a lovely design, and I hate to be that person, but...the east and west are in the wrong spots.

    1. Pretend it's on the floor -- they're correct, but it looks funny because one is under it.

    2. I thought that too at first, but then I realized it's on the ceiling, so when you look up it is actually correct.

    3. This could be the next visual puzzle a la the dress, because I'm not seeing how the E and W are correct! I keep looking trying to see how it's right, and it's making my head hurt haha. Is it the placement of the letters facing "toward the compass" that's throwing me off?? If I were standing under it and read the E as it is, without mentally inverting it, I would naturally expect to look to the right and see the S. Why is N there?! -Victoria

    4. wow that boggled my mind. i had to draw a compass on a piece of paper and hold it over my head to figure it out! (looks beautiful as always guys!)

    5. I just added the explanation that helped me: when standing at the South point, East is to the right of North! Once I realized that it all clicked back into place. :)

    6. Yeah, my sister had a ceiling lamp that had a compass on it; and they did it wrong! My sister only noticed when she put it on the ceiling. So good on you doing it the right way.

    7. I was also having troubles wrapping my mind around it. So I ended up staring at my plain white ceiling and waving my arms around to indicate the directions :-D And then, finally, I got it :-)

    8. It's hard to see, but you are looking up, through the compass.

  2. Long time follower, first time commentor, breaking my lurking trend because WOW! I absolutely love compass rose designs and this looks amazing! I so appreciate how you break down DIY projects and make it feel do-able! I'll be saving this post and definitely referring back to it in the future, because I'm pretty sure I need this design on a ceiling somewhere in my life.

  3. I was wondering if the compass was oriented. So neat that it is! Thanks for answering the question without me having to ask it. ;^ } Absolutely love the gold edging <3. -Shaun

  4. i love it!! Are you coming to do one at our house next? ;)

  5. Can you please share the name of the blue paint? We are repainting our family room soon, and I am trying so hard to find a perfect "moody, dark, blue-green." Love the compass!

  6. Idk about what Jen used, but I just saw the MOST gorgeous blue green dining room online! It was the color “Planet Earth” by Valspar. Look up @luckyandi on Instagram to see pics.

    1. Thanks RachSparkles, I just googled it...that is a fantastic color! I'd use this one :-)

  7. Really??? You don't have the directions correct? Knowing that would do my head in, even if it is the prettiest compass rose I have ever seen, and I knida want a man that has some connection to compasses now so I can have one in my bedroom, but north would have to be north!

    1. The direction ARE correct, they're just off by a few degrees, since the house doesn't line up exactly with the poles, ha. If we'd made it match the compass exactly it would have looked like the whole ceiling was crooked!

  8. That’s absolutely fabulous!! Thanks for the short tutorial. :D

  9. That design is gorgeous! I ended up holding my phone over my head and looking up at it to see the directions correctly, lol.

    I have a round compass-rose rug in my library, and regularly turn it so that north is north, even though that doesn’t align with the walls. But a rug is much easier to reposition than a ceiling - Glad to hear the room you were painting in let you get it pretty much right!

  10. The serif font on those letters is perfect!

  11. Hi, I found this blog coming from the Cake Wrecks one.

    This is a great, creative idea for interior design, and the execution is great as well!


  12. Figuring out how the cardinal directions could be correct took a while! Wow, that would drive me bonkers.

  13. Love it! The compass rose has a very deep meaning for our family and I have been wanting to incorporate one in our new home, but couldn’t find one I was happy with. Not sure why it never occurred to me that I could make my own. 🙄

  14. I wondered, through all my reading of this, if the directions were correct, so I'm so glad you answered that at the end! I love compass roses, I don't have any tattoos, but I've thought if I were to get one, it would be a compass rose.

  15. That first picture of you is really beautiful, you look so calm and relaxed in it.

  16. That's beautiful! I love compass roses, and the ceiling looks amazing. I never would've thought of putting it up there!


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