Introduction: How to Paint a Star/night-sky Themed Nursery That Will Last Until High School.

Before I even had kids, I started painting my guest room in a star/night-sky theme because I am really, really, REALLY nuts for outer space and all things star-related. Like the "all-I-ever-wanted-to-be-was-an-astronaut-ever-since-I-was-a-little-girl" sort of obsession that has just grown stronger with time. Since I couldn't name my children after stars (I dunno--Moonbeam Stardust does have a nice ring to it!), I settled for naming my ferrets after stars: Castor, Pollux, Sirius, Betelgeuse, and Vega. Turns out, near the end of painting my guest room, I found out I was six weeks pregnant with my first child and quickly turned it into the baby's nursery. Three children later, this nursery has been the perfect room for both my girls and my boy to grow up in. It has a non-babyish quality to it that will allow my 3-year-old son to stay in it until his teenage years, when we can add a cool metal desk made out of tool chests topped with a laminate counter, pushed up against a metal bulletin board on the wall.

Oh, and the best thing of all about this room: GLOW IN THE DARK accurate representation of the night sky! That was a must for this room, because how can a star/night sky themed room NOT have stars and planets that glowed in the dark when you shut the lights off? Another positive feature of this glow-in-the-dark room: no need for a night light. My children have never needed a night light in this room, since the stars glow brightly when the lights are shut off, and then dim over time to complete darkness by the time they fall asleep.


We moved the crib out a few years ago and painted this interactive Star Wars mural with the help of the Touch Board from Bare Conductive.

Step 1: Base Coat and Sponge Painting the Walls.

So I'll start off by saying that I'm sorry I have no before pictures, but I made you a video of the sponge-painting process on a piece of foam board.

This room was done twelve years ago and it really is an easy process to paint this effect on the wall. I had never sponge-painted, or even "normally" painted a room before this project. You really don't need any artistic skills in this project either, but don't tell my friends and family that, I like them to continue to think that I have amazing painting skills!

Depending on how your room is shaped, you need to decide which walls are the night-time walls and which walls will become the day-light walls. I decided to split my room diagonally down the center and do half and half. I do caution against painting your entire room in the dark night-time themed colors, as I would think it would optically shrink your room and you would need lot of light in the evening hours to see comfortably. But it is your room--if you want a cozy, dark, cave-like feel to it, then go ahead and paint it all night-time!

Materials and supplies needed:

Blue painter's tape

Latex primer

Pale yellow latex paint for base coat of daylight walls

Light blue latex paint for base coat of night-sky walls

Paint rollers with roller covers

Paintbrush for painting edges and corners

Small craft and stencil-type brushes

Acrylic paint in green, purple, dark blue, deep hue yellow, red paint pen, black paint pen, gold paint pen, glow-in-the-dark paint

Latex glazing medium (can find larger containers of this at the home-improvement stores)

Natural sea sponges

Resealable plastic bags

Plastic bowls for mixing paints

Night sky stencils (or make your own)

Large sheets of thin paper

Graphite transfer paper

Computer printer paper

Yardstick, pencil, and a string

Old toothbrush

Daylight walls

Using your blue painter's tape, tape off your baseboards, your window frames, your doors, etc., on your daylight walls. Also tape off the edges of where the night-sky walls will meet your daylight walls. Prime, if necessary, and paint your walls with the pale yellow latex paint. Apply a second coat if needed and let dry completely.

Partially mix 1 part "deep hue" yellow (it is more light orange/dark gold in color--if you can find a light hue orange, you can use it as well) acrylic paint and 1 part glazing medium in a plastic bowl. By only partially mixing the acrylic paint and the glazing medium, you get bits of stronger color when you sponge the wall. Wet your sponge and wring it out some, but not all, of the water. Dip the sponge in the paint/glaze mixture, then dab the paint onto the wall in an up-and-down motion, all around your pale yellow walls to the edges. With your other hand in the plastic baggie, blot the edges of the color to soften them, or use a clean part of the sponge to blend and mute the sponge's marks. You may need to use the small stencil brush to get into the corners of the room where the sponge can't fit very well. Just dip the end of the stencil brush into the paint on the sponge and dab the brush onto the wall to continue the mottled effect. With the same damp sea sponge, apply a little of your pale yellow latex paint onto the wall in an up-and-down motion and work it in using the plastic baggie method or a clean part of the sponge. Allow the paint to dry.

Night-sky walls

Using the blue painter's tape, tape off your baseboards, your window frames, your doors on the night-sky walls. Also tape the edges of where the daylight walls meet your night-sky walls. Prime the night-sky walls with the latex primer, if necessary. Paint with the light blue latex paint; allow the paint to dry. You probably don't need a second coat of the light blue paint because of how dark the acrylic glazes are on the wall, but if you feel the need to, apply a second base coat as well. Allow to dry completely.

In separate bowls, mix the dark blue, green, and purple acrylic paints with the glazing medium (1:1 ratio). Using the dark blue paint/glaze mixture and a new damp sea sponge, dab the paint onto the wall in an up-and-down motion, leaving areas of light blue background. Using the same sponge, dip into a second color (purple) and dab randomly over the first areas of color. Continue sponging outward, adding and mixing the colors on the wall. Avoid creating small isolated patches of color, think big and connect masses of the same colors to give a continuous feel to the night-sky. When you come to a corner, use your stencil brush to continue the mottled paint effect where the sea sponge can't fit well. Allow the paint to dry.

Why do I need to add the glazing compound to the acrylic paint before sponging it on?

The purpose of the glazing component in faux finishing/faux painting is to extend the drying time of the acrylic paint and make the paint color more transparent. This helps to be able to continue to blend larger sections together as you move across the wall. This is also the reason that you want to be able to finish at least an entire wall in the allotted time--and not stop halfway through--because the acrylic paint (even with the glazing compound) will eventually dry completely and you will not be able to blend and join the larger sections together seamlessly. You will be left with a darker edge in that case, where the other paint just layered on top of the dried paint instead of blending in with it. If you think you can only do one wall a day, put blue painter's tape on all the other adjacent wall edges, even the finished 'faux'ed walls, to keep the new paint from just sitting on top of the dried paint and leaving behind a funky darker edge.

Step 2: Painting Mariner's Compass and Old Astronomical Charts.

Using a yardstick and a pencil, draw the compass lines on the wall. With a small craft brush and the green acrylic paint, paint half of each compass arm, starting at the pencil lines and working inward. Leave chips and cracks in the color to suggest age. Paint the other half of each compass arm with purple acrylic paint. If you are afraid of wobbly lines, use the blue painter's tape as an outline on your wall to make sure you have crisp, straight lines when you paint.

To add additional astronomical charts, use the yardstick and a pencil to draw the straight lines and a pencil tied to a string to draw the arcs. Paint the lines black and red using the acrylic paint pens. Allow to dry. With a damp sea sponge, apply a little of the pale yellow latex paint sparingly over the compass and charts to suggest age and wear.

Step 3: Painting the Inspirational Headings.

Don't laugh--Papyrus font was so in twelve years ago!

Print your words or letters using a computer printer on normal copy paper. Print it large enough so you can get one letter per 8.5 X 11 inch page. Cut and tape all the pages together so that you have a word banner that is evenly spaced between the letters. Affix 8.5 X 11 inch carbon graphite papers behind the letters of your word and with the blue painter's tape, tape the paper banner over your window or over the closet door. Trace over the outline of your letters with a pencil to transfer the word to your painted wall. Use a gold or black paint pen to fill in your traced word. And don't get mad if your font goes out of style in the 18 years your room is decorated like this.

Step 4: Painting the (mostly) Astronomically Correct Night Sky.

I ordered these "Nightsky" stencils off the internet to help me accurately draw the stars/constellations on the night-sky walls. I'm pretty sure they are still being sold out there even today, but you could make your own if you want.

Being the star nerd that I am, I ordered all three products (Summer Sky, Winter Sky, and Southern Sky) and proceeded to draw in all the constellation lines and label them. Even though it took some time, I am so happy I did this because I found out that some stars weren't punched where they needed to be placed, an entire constellation went missing (eh, it happens sometimes when they redraw them, like poor Pluto suddenly being left out of our planet lineup because a committee voted on it), and one of the stencils had stamped the wrong end with the equivalent "this end is up." Whatever, I could handle it. I found my star charts and placed the stencils over my night-sky walls where they should be with the Milky Way traveling up one wall and across the top of the ceiling seamlessly.

I say "mostly astronomically correct night sky" in my heading, because one is still trying to place a round, three-dimensional globe of constellations on a flat, two-dimensional walls. The center of the room is the most accurate representation of the constellations, with the outer edges of my starry night sky repeating some of the constellations that had already been placed on the other side of the room (time warp!) so that I could cover as much of my dark night-sky walls with glow-in-the-dark constellations as possible. I painted the stars first with the gold paint pen through the little stencil holes, then I dabbed the glow-in-the-dark paint on top of the dried gold paint. If you want a more subtler star look in the daylight hours, you can leave out the gold paint application and just use the glow-in-the-dark paint through your stencil.

Step 5: Painting the Milky Way Galaxy.

Using the star charts provided in the Nightsky stencil boxes, I drew a red line on my star stencils indicating where the Milky Way galaxy fell. I then pieced together large pieces of thin paper to use as another "tearable" stencil to place on the wall. I traced my Milky Way line from the original star stencil onto my makeshift disposable stencil. I then cut this stencil open where the Milky Way was located, and taped the Milky Way stencil to the wall, exposing the correct constellations running through it.

In a bowl with watered down the glow-in-the-dark paint, I dipped the end of the toothbrush in the watered paint and ran my finger over the bristles to flick the little droplets onto the wall where the stencil lay open. (Make sure you have a tarp or plastic on the floor so your carpet doesn't end up glowing like your walls of your night-sky!) I did this over and over on the wall and on the ceiling, using my cutaway stencil to only expose the part of the wall I wanted the paint to hit.

Step 6: Adding Additional Paraphernalia to the Walls and Ceiling.

Gather plastic glow-in-the-dark planets and hang them around the central light fixture in your ceiling like it is the sun. Better yet, find a light fixture that resembles the sun (or a giant sunflower if you look at it long enough). I also found wallpaper stick-ums of the planets to affix to the walls for more visual appeal. "Moon in my Room", lighted moon art, is also mounted to one of the walls over the changing table, and offered us just enough additional light in those middle-of-the-night diaper changes so as to not wake the baby with the bright overhead central light.

Step 7: Turn Off the Lights and Enjoy Your Astronomically Correct Night Sky!

This is the best part--turning off the lights and enjoying the brightly lit stars and constellations, and the faint Milky Way galaxy running across the ceiling and down the wall. Sometimes, when guests have used this room, they comment on how bright the night sky is when they first go to bed and get a little worried that they will not be able to sleep. But it fades enough to let them fall fast asleep within minutes.

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