You and Michelangelo -- painting partners extraordinaire, transforming a bland stretch of ceiling into a celestial realm -- share the same eagerness to rise to an artistic challenge. Fortunately, although your home may not attract millions of tourists, you won't get hunchbacked from painting your ceiling to look like the sky. Skip the history of creation and most of the deities, and focus on clouds, heavenly bodies, things that fly and your favorite shade of blue.
Basic Blue Sky
An ordinary blue sky with puffy white clouds is so simple to paint, even a child could do it -- if it wasn't on the ceiling. It should be a snap for you. Tape the tops of the walls with painter's tape to prevent drips; toss a dropcloth on the floor and hike up the ladder. Cut in the ceiling edges with an angled paintbrush, and then use a roller to cover the rest of the ceiling with cerulean or ice blue -- whatever shade makes you happy. A roller on an extender lets you reach farther or work from the floor. Once the blue paint dries, sponge on big fluffs of cottony white paint clouds. Copy a photograph or painting if you are unsure of configurations or spacing. Add a note of authenticity with the merest dry-brushing or light sponging of gray or pale pink in the clouds to hint at rain or the sunrise.
Set that baby's imagination on fire while she's still staring up at the boring ceiling from her crib. Once the ceiling is all-over blue, stencil or sketch in fantastical images from favorite storybooks. Mary Poppins with umbrella, Michael and Jane could be fun -- or just a scattering of gold-foil gingerbread stars. Angels are floaty and pretty, as are fairies of every type, from mischievous to diaphanous. A big, smiling stylized sun could peep out from behind an explosion of sunflowers. Rocket ships and biplanes with props and flying aces might crisscross the heavens. Give her an entire universe of planets to contemplate. The sky's the limit when you're painting dreams just out of reach.
Canopy of Constellations
Not all fascinating sky-scapes are true blue. Let night fall over the ceiling with a variegated deep-blue-to-midnight painted backdrop and sprinklings of phosphorescent stars that glow when the lights are off. Copy a real map of the heavens from an astronomy book, or work freehand or with stencils of star groups like the Big Dipper. Paint a border of phases of the waxing and waning moon around the ceiling edges. Position a giant man-in-the-moon in the center of the dark ceiling for a fictional take on the sky -- or dab in a crescent moon with fiddling cats, jumping cows, fleeing china and cutlery, or an obedient lineup of lazy, leaping sheep. Bedtime won't be a guaranteed grumblefest any more when lights-out means the nightlight and the sky above turn on.
Haint-Blue Porch Protector
Southern exteriors, especially in coastal communities, feature a surprising number of light blue porch ceilings -- a soft, serene look that hints of dark phantasms and unspeakable specters. The Gullah people, who settled the islands and coastal areas along the Carolinas, Georgia and northern Florida, believed that spirits, or haints, could not cross water. They painted the ceilings over the thresholds to their homes pale blue -- a lovely sky-shade that symbolized water and a powerful haint barrier to them. The custom gained popularity in towns where a generous front porch was both neighborly and a defense against the crushing summer heat. So paint a random butterfly or an exaltation of larks on your sky-blue porch ceiling. No troublesome ghouls or ghosts will bother them, or slip unnoticed into your house.