Dawnmist Glow in the Dark Star Project 2013

During December 2012 and into February 2013 we worked on an art project in the home which was to decorate the entire bedroom ceiling with glow in the dark stars.

Planning the Layout

I began by measuring the length and width of the ceiling and then drawing that up on the computer, also including positions of light fittings. I then used Google to search for images of constellation maps. In particular I was looking for a map that showed the Northern hemisphere and wanted to include a number of star formations that I enjoyed seeing in the night sky. I wanted to include Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Leo, Pleiades, The Great Bear, Pegasus and Cygnus to name a few.

I managed to find a very simple map that had been created by someone that arranged all of these constellations, although there was some distortion on a few of them because the true alignments are tricky to convert into a large flat area covering such a wide area. I cropped and scaled it, creating my own much more detailed version with more stars and a grid added as shown here.

Making the Templates to Fit the Room

The next stage was how to make a suitable template in order to mark so many stars in such accurate places upside-down on the ceiling! I decided to use pieces of A3 paper and a grid sheet which I placed below the sheet to be marked up. I divided my map into a grid that fitted A5 and divided that even further. Then, sheet by sheet I copied the smaller portions of the map by eye onto the actual larger sheets of paper. On each star I drew a large dot for its position and gave it a number which corresponded to the three sizes I had chosen to represent all the stars in my night sky. This took some time to do but when completed I had 80 sheets of A5 size paper.

The next trick was to work out how I was going to mark through these templates easily. I decided to rest each sheet of paper onto a thick piece of soft cardboard and push a metal cork-boring tool through which punches out a small hole in the paper in the right place. I needed about a 5mm diameter hole for each star. Finally I sellotaped the sheets of paper together in strips ready to be offered up to the ceiling for the marking process. I did each strip at a time from one side of the room to the other using a hot glue-gun to secure the paper to the ceiling then keeping the strip tight and properly aligned before gluing the other end. I marked the ceiling in faint pencil at the edges of the sheets so I could align the next strip in the right place. I then marked the star positions accurately through the paper straight onto the ceiling using coloured felt tip pens. This would enable me to ensure I knew which size of star would be fixed in the right place later on.

Making the Stars

By this stage I had a vision of what I wanted in my mind but had not really thought about what I would actually make the stars out of. We had managed to make a glow in the dark paint by mixing some special powder with a clear varnish but thinking ahead it would have meant coating each star several times and there were at this time some 450 stars planned. I looked around on e-bay and after much thinking decided to buy some affordable acrylic Diamantes in various sizes to suit my project. Some were sold in bulk-lots making it more affordable although the larger 20mm size was more expensive. The beauty of these was that they have a silver backing on them which reflects light and because the glow paint we made was a fairly thin layer meant that some of the light getting into them would reflect back increasing the brightness of the glow. We devised a more practical kind of paint using the glow powder mixed with an acrylic-based chemical which would bond chemically to the surface of the Diamantes.

Next we made up a board with narrow strips of double-sided sponge tape and I placed the Diamantes in single or double rows along the tape ready for painting. This had to be done outdoors because of fumes given off from the paint. I was able to add two thick coats to each star in batches of about 200 at a time and they were dry in less than 2 hours.

Placing the Stars into the Night Sky

This was a two-person job. Natalie sat on the bed and took each star one by one and added a small blob of mastic paste to the back. She then handed them up to me as I called for them in the three sizes, placing them over the colour felt-tip pen marks I had made. We chose to use a special kind of mastic adhesive because it would stick to the acrylic star as well as to the artex ceiling and would not be too messy.

In the picture below you can see the stars placed on the ceiling as well as rainbows (another project) which occur in the daytime when the sun is shining.

Adding More Features

The project had all gone extremely smoothly and looked excellent but it needed a few more touches to make it even more realistic. I decided to buy another size of Diamante, this time 4mm dia. And add a selection of tiny stars to encircle and pick out the constellations themselves. I used a star atlas to study each constellation in turn and mapped onto my existing chart a few smaller stars that I felt suited. In all I counted about 650 of these meaning the total at the end of the project was in the region of 1100!

As before the Diamantes were stuck onto the sticky-back strips and blobbed with the glow paint then left to dry. Because these were so small we decided to use a medical syringe containing some of the mastic glue, this allowed me to stand in position below each constellation and ease a tiny blob of glue on the back of each star as I worked. The final result really added a nice dimension to the appearance and brought it to life more.

The Milky Way

The last important feature in the night sky is of course the milky way and for this I decided to use the other glow in the dark paint (the one with powder mixed with varnish) to paint on hundreds of small dots marking out the position of the Milky Way. On the map I drew up this feature which passed from one side of the room to the other and would look impressive. The first session was to paint small dots across the entire area and then in a second session to add even more finer dots in such a way as to build up a feel of mist and cloud. In a third and fourth session selected areas would become more intense eventually creating a realistic looking, although stylised scene. I also used this paint to add a few galaxies and star clusters that are feint but important elements of the night sky.

Working upside-down with a paint brush led me to create an adaption to my brush forming a cup-like cone made from sticky-back aluminium tape. This caught any spills preventing the paint from dripping or drooling all down the brush handle or giving me luminous hair.

The project is now completed and is a pleasure to gaze up at while lying in bed resting and falling asleep. Because the time and effort was put in to think it through and to plan the star positions accurately the results were very pleasing and worth while.

It was also very well worth the effort of formulating our own glow-paint and painting Diamantes rather than using ordinary shop-bought "glow stars" -- the glow paint that Natalie concocted glows much more brightly and for much longer than anything we've ever seen in ready-made glow stars. The "sky" charges-up well enough just from the ordinary room lights that it literally glows all night.

Hope you enjoyed viewing and do have a look around the rest of the Dawnmist site...