Astronomy helps us put things into perspective. Looking up at a night sky full of stars takes us out of ourselves and sends us on a journey of thousands of light-years without taking a step. Children go on journeys of make-believe every day, and painting a child's bedroom ceiling with a galaxy and the mysteries of deep space feeds their imaginations and fuels new interests in what's out there. Adults, too, can transform a bedroom or a living space with a galaxy mural and imagine themselves to be the first ever to explore a new star system.
Check government safety regulations if you need to strip old paint or paper off the ceiling, or if lead-based paints are likely to have been used. Also be aware of any structural problems if the ceiling plaster is old.
Measure the ceiling width and length, and draw a to-scale grid on paper, using 1-inch per 1-foot grid squares. Plan the design by finding pictures of galaxies and planets in books, or online from government space agency sources, and sketching some ideas on paper. Copy a photograph of a particular galaxy, or create your own design.
Practice different paint techniques on paper and then on sheets of plywood or hardboard painted with black or dark blue ceiling emulsion. Taking time to perfect your techniques before embarking on the ceiling saves time and money and gives you a superior end result.
Check out digital photography tutorials on how to create galaxies and planets, as you can recreate the same effects on the ceiling using spray paint. Follow each step to see how each layer is built up and which digital brush techniques are used to achieve different effects.
Practice smoothing a faint mist of spray paint into a diaphanous dust cloud using old rags, or using a fine paintbrush to paint in distant stars around the galaxy in luminous paint. Take time to get used to trying different techniques and develop your confidence in tackling a galaxy ceiling. Experiment with spraying paint from a range of distances to see the effect.
Clear the room and cover fixed furniture and carpets with dustsheets as protection. Set up a platform using planks of wood and sturdy stepladders, so that you can stand upright and use both hands to work on the painting rather than teetering on a ladder step. Tables might be useful, as long as they don't tip when you stand at one edge. Ensure that the platform is safe so that you can concentrate on the design and painting. Have a chair or steps available, so that you can go back to floor level easily and check the painting.
Draw a grid of 1-foot squares on the ceiling in pencil, using a long ruler. Draw out the basic shapes of your design on the ceiling, transferring the details from each square in your paper grid into each square on the ceiling.
Paint the background in black or dark blue paint, using either a roller or spray paint. Lighter shades of blue can be added at a later stage -- this is simply building up the design in stages. Allow the paint to dry before starting work on the stars and galaxy.
Spray paint or use a brush to paint the central core of the galaxy. Again, refine this later as this is simply to get your design mapped out. Use spray paint to bring in the concentric swirls of stardust, rocks and planets around the galaxy core, or to suggest the vast clouds of hanging dust that signify less-defined galaxy shapes. Allow to dry.
Add stars in varying degrees of magnitude across the ceiling. Use shades of blue to signify those far away, and a brighter white the nearer they are.
Create a planet by holding a plastic bowl or a large plastic bin lid against the ceiling, and spraying lightly round the edge in white or blue. Remove the bowl or lid, and spray two or three colours over and within the circle, such as red, orange and blue. Tear a small piece of glossy magazine paper, spread it on part of the planet, then peel it away to reveal landmass-type shapes. Repeat across the surface of the planet. Finally, replace the bowl or lid over the planet, and spray around it with dark and light blue, blending it in with the background. Create a dark side to the planet by removing the bowl or lid, and spray painting across it to suggest shadow.
Use specialist paints to add glistening stars, luminance and phosphorescence across the ceiling so that the stars and galaxy glow in the dark.
If you like what you did with the ceiling, extend the galaxy mural down the walls and turn the room decor into a space-themed environment. Bring in silver or shiny fabrics, clear the room of clutter, chintz and flowery wallpaper, and streamline as much as possible to create the sense of being in a spaceship. If you're using paint that only glows once you have shone a black light on it, you can keep the room as it is because all you'll see when it's dark is the ceiling. If you haven't used luminous paints, turn the lights out at night and use a torch to explore the ceiling, imagining yourself in a spaceship hurtling through space.
When using spray paints, ventilate the area as much as possible and open all available windows to reduce the possibility of droplet inhalation, even if you are wearing goggles and a mask. Do not paint or use spray paint if there is a pregnant woman in the house. Chemical gases given off may be harmful to her and the unborn baby if absorbed chemicals cross the placental barrier.