This is a variation on a flower vase that I've wanted to do for some time that uses test tubes to arrange individual flowers.
The sometimes daunting, monolith quality of the conventional flower bouquet is deconstructed and scientificified (Dear English Language, Please accept my word. Best, Noah), with the intent of exploring some simple floral and plant arrangements that move beyond the standard bouquet and into the "flower field".
Step 1: Find and Dismantle a Shadow Box Frame
The base for the test tube flower vase is actually quite simple. I avoided building a custom frame buy purchasing a simple shadow box from Michael's craft store. The test tubes need two layers of acrylic to support them and a simple frame to hold the hold thing together - pretty much the exact structure of a deep shadow box.
I used a shadow box along these lines that had wooden spacers to adjust the depth of the backer to accommodate different sized objects to store in the frame - perfect for supporting the test tubes.
Once you've got the shadow box in hand, remove the glass panel and support backer and keep them for a future project. Depending on the style of shadow box, this can be done by removing the small nails that hold the glass in place, and simply removing the rear of the shadow box so that's it's just stripped down to the frame and nothing else.
Step 2: Procure Test Tubes and Measure
The next step is to source a bunch of glass test tubes. I found mine at Paxton Gate in San Francisco, but small piece by piece orders can also be placed online at American Science Surplus.
Once you've found some appropriate glassware, carefully measure each of your test tubes, since in my experience, they are all slightly different diameters, and it's crucial that the supporting panels hold the test tubes snugly.
I got three different sizes of test tubes thinking that it might be nice to hold different size flowers, but I think if I could do it over again I'd get test tubes of all the same size so everything would be interchangeable.
Step 3: Design and Cut Supporting Panels
The test tubes are best held in place by two separate supporting panels stacked on top of eachother. Since they'll be holding tall, unbalanced payloads (aka flowers), it's important to properly support them.
I used Corel Draw and a laser cutter to design and quickly cut two identical panels that were exactly the same size as the glass that was removed from the frame was - just with a few holes cut out in them to receive the test tubes.
Having a laser cutter helps this step of the project immensely, but you can of course simply drill out the acrylic panel and then sand/file the final bit down until the tube fits in perfectly. Or, since the test tubes should be a standard metric size, simply buy that exact diameter drill bit so that it fits just right.
Step 4: Assembly
Secure the newly fabricated panels into the shadow box using whatever means necessary. My panels were exactly the same size and thickness (8" tall x 10" wide x 1/8" thick) so they just dropped right into the existing places where the glass and the wood backer came out.
I then headed over to the Oakland Flower Market and picked up a couple different colors of Fuji Mums. Why Fuji Mums? Because I liked they way they looked, they came in multiple colors and were the right size of course!
I trimmed down the stems to a uniform height, filled the test tubes with water, carefully inserted a flower into each one, and then arranged the vials into the frame.
I tried to create a field of color and texture with the mums with this first attempt, but it's pretty clear that the variations on flower arrangement are limitless.
Step 5: Enjoy
Place the test tube flower vase out of direct sunlight, keep them filled with water, and enjoy your floral or plant specimens.
The configuration below reminds me of a traffic light. When the flower die, I think I'll place some succulents inside the test tubes so that something living can actually grow and thrive in the vase.
Future vases could include a larger matrix of vials and could display simple (very simple), highly pixelated words and even images. Heck, if we can round up 2,073,600 (1920 x 1080) flowers and a big enough frame, we can make an HD flower display!