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What are Ceiling Murals?

By Jeri Sullivan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ceiling murals are artwork painted directly onto the ceiling. There are several famous examples of these murals, including the stars on the main concourse ceiling at Grand Central Station in New York and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling mural in the Vatican. Though ceiling murals are painted, there are different methods to create the art, which include trompe l'oeil, fresco, stencils, and decals.

Murals created using the trompe l'oeil method are eye-catching because they appear three dimensional. The artist uses this method of precise imagery to create an optical illusion and make the ceiling seem larger and the subjects look alive. The Jesuit Church in Vienna, Austria, contains ceiling murals that looks like golden domes when in fact it is barely vaulted.

Murals painted in the fresco method are done with a mixture of paint and plaster. The fresco method was popular during the Renaissance period and many churches throughout Europe have fresco ceilings. The artist adds pigment to a thin layer of plaster and paints in small sections. As the plaster dries, the pigment binds to the plaster and forms a permanent image.

Today's artists often utilize modern techniques to create ceiling murals. The use of stencils and decals are considerably less expensive and less time consuming. This makes it more attractive to individual homeowners who wish to have ceiling murals in their homes. The most common rooms for ceiling murals are nurseries, children's rooms, and master bedrooms because the artwork will be seen as the person lies in bed. Common mural themes include stars or constellations, clouds, and angels.

Artists who create ceiling murals using stencils start with a specific design and either order a custom stencil or hand cut their own. The stencil is then taped on the ceiling with removable tape and and the artist follows the stencil to paint the outline. The remaining image is then filled in with paint by hand. Typically, stencils work best for a simple repeating design such as clouds, vines, or flowers.

As laser art techniques become more advanced, decals are used more often. The decal technique for ceiling murals is similar to decoupage techniques where a thin glue material is painted over the decal to adhere it to a piece of furniture. The laser images have a high level of definition which makes them a good choice for homeowners who want a professional piece of art without having to invest in a muralist.

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Discussion Comments

By Perdido — On Nov 16, 2011

I called a local painting company that normally does murals for walls and asked them if they could do one on a ceiling. They said they could call in their freelance artist who specializes in this, and I told them to go ahead and give him my number.

I asked him if he could paint a flower garden along one edge of the ceiling and make it look like the flowers were growing upward instead of outward. He said he was trained to do optical tricks with perspective.

He painted the stems and leaves thick and big, and as the stem went up, it got thinner. This resulted in the flowers not looking as large as the base of the plant, but it made them look like they were growing into the sky.

I was very impressed with his work. I asked him why the company did not advertise that they had a ceiling mural artist, and he said it’s because his work takes a long time to finish, and they would be backed up with requests if they let people know.

By wavy58 — On Nov 15, 2011

I love those glow in the dark stars that you can get to stick to your ceiling. However, I had trouble with several of them falling off. I decided I needed something more permanent.

I found some glow in the dark paint and some star stencils intended for walls. I stuck them to the ceiling and painted perfect stars in various spots. I had several different sizes of star stencils to keep things interesting and make some seem further away than others.

The special paint soaks up light during the day or whenever the light switch is turned on, and then it radiates that light at night. You could say that they are solar powered stars.

By StarJo — On Nov 15, 2011

@kylee07drg - Kids love murals and can probably appreciate them more than grownup admirers of art. I hired an artist to paint my child’s ceiling using the fresco method, and now I can’t get her to stop staring at it!

My daughter loves unicorns and rainbows. So, the artist painted a couple of unicorns walking up and down a rainbow that spans the width of the ceiling.

It took him a long time to complete, and he had to make his own stencil to aid him in getting the arch of the rainbow accurate. My daughter tells me that the unicorns move around when I’m not looking, and I just smile to myself. I know this means he did a good job.

By kylee07drg — On Nov 14, 2011

I have a friend who paints murals for a living. He does some fantastic trompe l'oeil work that is so realistic it’s scary.

I saw a ceiling mural he did recently for a client’s young son. The boy loved dragons, so he painted red, orange, and purple swirls to represent fire in the background. He painted a dragon perched on the edge of the molding, breathing out the swirls.

The dragon was done in such a way that it looks like a toy attached to the ceiling. It is completely three-dimensional.

By titans62 — On Nov 14, 2011

@jmc88 - When my son was younger, we looked into different types of wall murals for kids. You actually can buy wallpaper murals. They are hard to find, but they exist. Instead of being hung top to bottom, they go lengthwise across the wall. They have the typical kids designs like sports and outdoors and things like that.

Like the article talks about, though, if you want ceiling and wall murals for cheap, the best way to go is just by drawing things yourself or getting stencils. Luckily, our son was interested in the outdoors, so it was simple enough to paint some clouds and draw other things. Fortunately, we have a friend who is a pretty good painter, so she helped us with some of the more difficult things like trees. Overall, it was a nice result.

By jmc88 — On Nov 14, 2011

Whenever we moved into our new house, the old owners had ceiling murals in a couple of the rooms. They owned a daycare, so they had painted a lot of clouds and birds on the ceiling. I don't think they had any wall decals or things like that, though. It sounds like those might be a pain to try to get off of the wall without tearing it up.

I do think ceiling murals can be neat in some cases, though. My friend's parents were very artistic and they painted a ceiling and wall mural in his room that had different constellations and space scenes. When I was a kid, I always wanted to paint stars and things like that on my ceilings, but my parents would never let me.

Nowadays, can you buy wallpaper murals for rooms? I'm sure they would have to be custom made to fit the dimensions of the room, but it seems like something that there might be a market for.

By TreeMan — On Nov 13, 2011

@kentuckycat - I guess I have seen trompe l'oeil before, but I never knew that was the name of it. I'll have to try to remember that name. You're right, though, it is very impressive. I would love to get a change to travel around Europe and look at some of these things in person.

I think you have a good point. I can't think of anywhere in the Americas that really has any popular ceiling murals. Thinking about the way things were settled, I would probably expect to find some in places like Brazil and Mexico that were settled before the United States. They have a lot more of the large churches where it seems like things like ceiling murals are more often found.

By kentuckycat — On Nov 12, 2011

I think it is amazing to look at some of the large scale ceiling murals like the Sistine Chapel. I was not familiar with the trompe l'oeil method before I read this article. I just searched for a picture of the ceiling of the Jesuit Church in Austria, and it is absolutely incredible now knowing that it is relatively flat. You could never tell by the picture.

It must take great dedication to do something like that. I know it took Michelangelo several years to finish the Sistine Chapel. Does anyone know of any other places that have amazing ceiling murals?

I am sure a lot of them are based in Europe and Asia, since that is where a lot of it started. By the time North America started to be settled by Europeans, I think those styles were going out of fashion. That being said, are there any impressive murals anywhere in North or South America?

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