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




About: Once a mechanical and materials engineer that worked on rockets, I am now a stay-at-home mom to three incredible children. I also teach chess to elementary students after school once a week. I first got ho...

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.

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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    67 Discussions


    2 years ago

    *heavy breathing* I want this so SO bad...I love galaxy related patterns myself! I have them as my laptop background, and even painted a pair of canvas shoes to look galaxy-like! I'd love to do the same to my room!


    3 years ago

    Is there a way to remove it?


    3 years ago

    Hi, This is Amazing. Thank you so much for providing this instructable. I will try to paint my son's room accordingly.

    Can you please tell me approximately how much acrylic paint I will need for similar size room or 10x10 room? Also, can I use cheap Acrylic paint from craft section in walmart or do you reccomend the Liquifax ones as you have bought?

    Thanks for you help.


    3 years ago

    A black light might enrich the glow-in-the-dark effect. An industrious person might add a series of them to energize the effects, but I might be over-geeking the intended effect since I have a weakness for starscapes on the ceiling. ;)


    3 years ago

    This is VERY nice, but i feel something is missing. In the picture where we see the ceiling and the hanging planets around the sun shaped lamp, why not draw on the ceiling the orbit the planets have around the sun? It would give a much better perspective on why the planets are hanging there around the sun, they are not just random locations.


    3 years ago

    Are you the little girl from the Disney movie Tomorrowland? Lol


    3 years ago

    I LOVE IT....I'm also in love with space and this has inspired me to do more crafts that are related to space.
    (Thxs I owe you one)


    3 years ago

    I think the "astronomically correct" part has great educational value, especially nowadays when most people don't get to see the stars too well due to the constantly lit city environment.


    3 years ago

    A beautiful job. I did a star ceiling as well and attempted to do glow paint. I was disappointed at the intensity of the paint. The project succeeded without it. You can see the results here:
    But I wish I could have found a way to insensify and prolong the glow effect.

    I might look into DIY-Guy's suggedtiin from the comments below.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    A lot depends on the type of phosphorescent paint you use. The old Zinc Sulphide type glows poorly and for a short time. The newer Strontium Aluminate type glows much brighter and much longer. You do have to 'charge' it for a longer time or with a brighter light source. Try using an old electronic flash-tube type camera flash, available at thrift shops for a few bucks. That's the fastest way to charge the paint. Or you could have a few black light 'BLB' fluorescent tubes placed along the edges of the ceiling, turned on a short time before viewing, and then turned off. Also, the size of the paint 'grains' does matter, with the larger sizes producing brighter, longer lasting glows.

    See GLOW in the DARK Paints What to expect and How to USE and Super-bright glow-in-the-dark paints for more information.


    4 years ago

    My son would love that in his room I'm going to have to try it

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome! I hope you do! My kids love the room and they have a space station tent in one corner for play. The furniture and toys can be switched out as they get older. I was thinking of painting the Millennium Falcon (small) or the Death Star (small) on the blue wall, just to give something new to look at in the room and to nerd it up some more!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Why not get a small Millenium Falcon toy (or model kit) and hang it from the ceiling for a neat 3-d effect? Or get some Tie Fighter models and recreate the Falcon's escape the Death Star...


    3 years ago

    Wow, nice job! I've been 'thinking' about doing a glow-in-the-dark star mural for years, but nothing like this. I really like the 'day' mural idea. Those stencils are expensive. I think I'd opt to print them out. One thing I would change is the color of the luminous paint for the stars. Green is not at all realistic. Blue is. And maybe red, green, and yellow for bright (low magnitude) stars in some of the constellations. I remember arguing with a girl in grade school, who was regarded as a good artist, and who always won blue ribbons in the art fair, about her depiction of the night sky using YELLOW stars. I told her that if she looked at the stars tonight, she'd see that they were mostly blue, but she insisted that they were yellow…


    3 years ago

    Bravo! Very well done!


    3 years ago on Step 1

    Papyrus font is cool. What else are you going to use in this application that has any real character, half-uncial? Love this. You - and it - are amazing.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Step 1

    Haha! Thank you for making me feel better about it!


    4 years ago on Step 3

    We love it , can't wait to try this ourselves.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is still one of my favorite instructables!
    Old style glow paint does fade pretty fast. Some people like a long lasting glow. In our home we have a jar of pigment powder that we hit with an ultraviolet laser from time to time and it glows all night.

    If you want pigments that will glow for up to 12 hours, check out what this company says. (Disclaimer: I use their pigments but an not associated with the company except as a normal customer.)
    "Natural light-storing
    rare-earth mineral crystals form the basis of GloTech's photoluminescent
    products. These crystals are non-radioactive, toxic-free and harmless,
    and can be recharged an infinite number of times. GloTech's premium
    grade photoluminescent pigments are of the highest quality with
    excellent afterglow effects, acknowledged to be among the best and
    brightest in the industry. They are utilized in the manufacture of our
    complete range of products including:

    Photoluminescent Powder Pigments

    Photoluminescent glow-in-the-dark powder is actually
    called phosphorescent crystals or pigments. This powdery substance
    absorbs light and then re-emits it over a length of time. This occurs
    when electrons absorb energy in the presence of light and move up to a
    higher orbit. In the absence of light energy, these same electrons fall
    from a higher energy level to a more stable energy level. When this
    occurs, they emit energy in the form of visible light. No chemical
    reaction actually occurs.

    There are basically two types of photoluminescent powder.
    The first generation of photoluminescent powder that has been around
    for many years is Zinc Sulphide. The afterglow characteristics of Zinc
    Sulphide have much to be desired and is commonly used in the manufacture
    of toys and many non-critical application areas. GloTech supplies the
    latest state-of-the-art photoluminescent powder pigments that glow many
    times longer and is many times brighter than the first generation Zinc
    Sulphide and second generation Strontium Aluminate. They come in a
    variety of colors and different particle sizes to suit many

    45-85 um or 200-300 mesh size - Large

    * Relatively large particle size

    * Very high afterglow intensity

    * Suitable for many applications such as brush painting, spray painting, candle making, and glass molding"