A rebel without a clue?

One of the more satisfying side benefits of creating Tannin Aquatics is that I have been able to share my ideas with a pretty wide audience via this blog, the podcast, club speaking engagements, and magazine articles. It's neat to share my  point of view and philosophy on the aquarium hobby!

Now, something that I hear a lot is that I am sort of a "rebel" or even a "maverick" of sorts, giving my opinion on ideas, and questioning things that we've taken for granted in the hobby for generations; compelling others to try new and different approaches, and to lead by example. 

I hardly see that as "rebellious."

I had a most "conventional" aquarium hobby pedigree. My dad was a fish geek, who was obsessed with guppies. I had my aquarium when I was around 4 years old. My dad was a product of the "Golden Age" of the aquarium hobby, having gotten his start in the early sixties. I learned to read by picking through my dad's dog-eared copies of Innes' Exotic Aquarium Fishes, Guppies by Axelrod, Wiltern et al., and lots of other classic books on guppies and aquarium care. I was obsessed with them!

There was- and IS- enormous wisdom in those classic books. I spend many happy hours playing with all sorts of "old school" ideas gleaned from those books. I loved the romantic descriptions of fishes and aquarium ideas in Innes' book and in the writings of Axelrod and others. As I accumulated my own library over the years, it was filled with a lot of those classics and more, with widely varying ideas.

So, where did the "rebel" part come in?

I'm not sure.

I think that it came to being because, after decades in the hobby, I saw that some things were being done "just because", without questioning, modifying, or expanding. The hobby seemed to be stagnating in some areas.  And I spoke about them. ruminated about ways to move things along. To improve stuff. Offer different ways of doing things. 

Is that really "rebelliousness?"

I don't know. 

I admit that we do push some unusual ideas now and again...but they're inspired by Nature as it is, not by some fanciful, curated, sterilized,  and "pasteurized" version that we have in our fantasies.

What I do know is the I was sick and tired of seeing really talented hobbyists simply "mailing it in", and doing stuff a certain way without question, simply because "that's the way it is done- and it works." And then, being downright arrogant and, dare I say, "asshole-ish" about it. Like, declaring that there way was THE only way, and that anything against their way of thinking was some sort of transgression....because it works. Why question it? Dogmatic to the extreme.

THAT is exactly whyI question stuff. I hate arrogance for the sake of being arrogant.

And you should, too.

When we started Tannin in 2015, the first order of business was to quantify the very thing that we believed in, and worked with. We utilized the term "botanical-style" to describe the top of aquariums that we favor. It was important to give this approach a descriptor.

As many of you have pointed out, if you search prior to 2015, the term "botanical" was simply not used to describe this stuff. You had "blackwater aquariums", which was a rather tightly focused descriptor, and it only describes some of what we do.

That was just the start.

Our brand colors are browns and golds and earth tones. We eschew the usual "web vomit" rainbow hues found in most aquarium branding, because that's only part of what Nature offers up.

Is THAT rebellious?

I don't think so. 

We embrace leaves, wood, substrate, and the impact on the water that they bring...Earthy ambience, as opposed to crystal clear, prismatic brightness. A different look, too.

Is That being rebellious?


We had to share our ideas, techniques, and educate. A huge responsibility. We all bear this. And of course, the idea of dispelling misinformation about this approach occupied- and STILL occupies- a large amount of our focus. There's so much misinformation and even lack of information out there. And the idea of pushing back against misinformation actually labeled me a "rebel" in some corners- which makes me laugh.

We have to question ideas and technique.


We HAVE to start looking at Nature AS IT REALLY IS as an influence. It's easy to fall in love with a look- we all have. But when we simply look at stuff from such a superficial lens, it sells us short. And I hate the hobby selling itself short. I hate us falling back on, "We do this because that's the way it's been done. And it works."

Of course, it works. But can't it work better? 

Can't we look at stuff like detritus, biofilms, turbidity, and tint- and understand exactly how this stuff is not only beautiful to look at, but elegant and efficient in its function. And how we can't be afraid of stuff because it looks contrary to what we've been taught in the hobby to be "healthy."

It's what Nature does. And has done for untold eons.

Look closely at Nature, and ask why things are the way they are. And attempt to replicate Her processes; the "look", different as it may be- will follow.

Thinking that way is not "rebellious."

It's simply progressive. It's evolutionary.

And look, some ideas or approaches that you explore and share are not well received. Or perhaps, just maybe- they're wrong. Accept that snd move on. Part of being a progressive person in the hobby is to accept that you might be incorrect, or that your ideas might be "off" now and then. I'm okay with that.  You should be, too.

Humility is a good thing to embrace in the hobby.

Don't be close minded. Look at things that are done a certain way, and if you see a better way- a more beneficial way- experiment, improve upon them, and share. And accept the good and the bad. Embrace the ephemeral.

We push a lot of unusual ideas and approaches here at Tannin Aquatics. They're not the best way- but they are a different way. And often, they fly in the face of the existing, commonly accepted way of doing stuff. Their look and function defy convention at times. And other times, they embrace things hobbyists have done for generations; perhaps stuff forgotten or dismissed in their day.

Is that being rebellious?


It's not rebellious to look at things differently. To question the status quo for the sake of moving the state of the art forward. It's not rebellious to look to our hobby's glorious past to evolve it to a new and exciting future.

So, if you're labeled a rebel or "disruptor" or whatever because you look at stuff differently, perhaps because you try a slightly different approach- and believe in what you do enough to take the criticisms- just put your head down and keep doing what you believe in.

Push the hobby forward by doing. Differently.

Share. Educate. Experiment. Question. Accept blame when it's deserved, don't get too high on any accolades you might receive along the way.

And if maybe, at some point, you want to be just a bit provocative from time to time- to make some noise...Raise a bit of hell- I say go for it. 😆

The hobby needs some of that, too.

Is THAT being rebellious?

 Well, maybe. But it's also kind of fun.

Okay, I might be a rebel. But I'm clueless about that part. You should be, too. Just be you. Celebrate, create. Love.

Stay curious. Stay thoughtful. Stay bold. Stay generous...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 











Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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