Intro: Micro Test Tube Dioramas (Smaller Than a Penny)
In this Instructable, I will be showing you how to create Micro Dioramas in test tubes. The dioramas I made are actually smaller in diameter than a penny!
I got inspiration for this project from Amsterdam based artist Rosa de Jong and her creation of “Micro Matter”. Her creations are absolutely wonderful, however I want to say that mine are actually much much smaller than hers. Hers are 1⅛ (1.125 inches) and mine are ¾ (0.75 inches), meaning that mine are 60% the size of hers. That is a 40% decrease in size, which is huge at such a miniature scale.
I made 3 different dioramas each in a slightly different scale, with a wooden geometric base to go with it. They took so much time, and were so meticulous and frustrating at times, but I love the way they turned out, and am super happy with how detailed they are!
• Test tubes
• Sturdy Paper
• Acrylic Paint
• Wood Stain
• Coffee stirrers and popsicle sticks
• Diorama Vegetation (flocking and bushes)
• Mod Podge
• Cyanoacrylate glue (super glue)
• Hot Glue
Step 1: Making the Base
I carved the bases out of thin balsa wood or large popsicle stick/tongue depressor with an Xacto, then sanded it down until they fit perfectly in the mouths of the tubes. Make sure to account for a little extra space for some vegetation that you will be putting on later to hide the wooden base.
Step 2: Making the Models
The water tower is made primarily out of coffee stirrers, as well as a small plastic disk for the base of the tank, and also paper for the roof. I started by cutting thin 1mm by 1mm strips from a coffee stirrer, and shaved them down until they were the proper size. I then made 3 large poles out of it, and added 8 other strips of wood to connect the entire thing together and make the base. I then started on the water tank, by painting the small plastic circle black. I then took thin strips of wood from the coffee stirrer, and glued them on top of the plastic circle. Next I took a bit of paper and glued it into a short cone shape to serve as a roof. The last step in the construction of this was to glue the water tank to the tower base, and for that I used cyanoacrylate glue, just like everything else so far in the tower.
I modeled this diorama after the Stone Heads in Easter Island. To create this head, I hand sculpted the piece out of porcelain clay, and meticulously modeled it so that is incredibly accurate to how the actual heads on Easter Island look. I had to let the head dry, and once it did, I mounted it to the base using cyanoacrylate glue, and moved on the the next diorama.
For my mock stonehenge, it is made of coffee stirrers carved down to around 1mm by 1mm. I cut out tiny lengths of the wood and arranged them in arches, then arranged the arches into a rough circle shape. Everything is held together using cyanoacrylate glue so far in this model.
Step 3: Paint and Stain
On the wooden tower, I diluted a dark wood stain with Naphtha (which is a solvent) and applied it to the tower and paper roof. It gave it an awesome weathered look and gave it the look that it had been sitting outside for quite a while.
On both the stone head and Stonehenge I painted them with gray primer, then used a light black wash to add some depth and detail into the pieces. I made the wash by adding a bit of water into black acrylic paint to make it less viscous, then painted it all over the models, then gently wiped it away. The trick to using washes is letting the paint sit on the pieces for a short time, and allow capillary action to pull the wash into the cracks so that it can’t be wiped away, then wipe away most of it. I absolutely love the way the black wash looked on the sculpted stone head, and I think it really made it look more like stone.
Step 4: Flocking & Foliage
On all the pieces I made a mixture of three different flocking materials to use as the grass and a faux moss, and then also added model bushes and foliage. I first coated the bases and everything I wanted covered in flocking with full strength Mod Podge, then lightly sprinkled the mixture of flocking materials over the whole piece, and shook off all of the extras, that didn’t get caught on the glue. I continued reapplying the flocking until the entire base was covered, as well as everything else that I wanted to have a mossy look. Make sure to cover the edges of the diorama with flocking too, so that no wood is shown in the final product.
I applied extra foliage in the form of little bushes to add some more detail and an overgrown look to all the pieces. I placed them very sparingly, but they really helped complete the overgrown look I wanted on all of the pieces.
I got all of the faux foliage from a diorama kit I had sitting in my basement for years that I never got around to making. You can find these in most craft stores, and very easily online.
Step 5: Adding Faux Soil and Roots
To give the models a more completed look, they needed a solid base underneath, to give to look of soil and roots. I first made a big glob of hot glue on the bottom of the wooden base, then coated the whole underside of the model in full strength Mod Podge. I made a homemade soil flocking out of crushed and sifted tree bark and applied that to the base. It turned out really awesome, and provided a lot of depth and texture to the model.
Step 6: Installing Into the Test Tubes
To actually install these models into the test tubes, I used a pipette to put a little bit of Mod Podge on the back side of the model and let it dry. If you don’t have a pipette or little syringe, you can alternately dip a skewer into Mod Podge, and then drip and gently rub the glue onto the back side of the models, and let them dry that way. It actually took quite a bit of effort to fix them all in perfectly flat and all at the exact same height.
Step 7: Making the Wooden Base
To make the wooden base, I used a simple 2 by 4, and shaped it into a geometric design to hold the three dioramas. I first determined the spacing I wanted, and used a drill bit slightly larger than the mouth of the test tubes, which are the widest part. I then took the 2 by 4, and ran it through the table saw to remove the chamfered edges that come from the factory. I then flipped it around and made a beveled cut on the opposite side, to add an extra design element to the stand and to show more of the test tubes. I then hand sanded the pieces to knock down any sharp edges, then used the same dark stain that I used on the tower, and coated the whole stand in that.
Step 8: Final Thoughts
Overall, I was so incredibly happy with the way these turned out. They were 60% the size of the original models which were created by a professional artist, and I really got the hang of working in such a miniature scale by the third model. I had to be so precise and meticulous, because some of the pieces were less than 1 millimeter in diameter. These were really difficult to complete, but in the end it definitely payed off and I am very satisfied with the results.
If you like this project, please vote for me in the contests this is submitted into, and also check out my other Instructables!