Doubling down on YOU: My case study.

Ever have one of those personal breakthroughs in the hobby? Perhaps it's just an epiphany, or maybe a development that gets you where you wanted to be after a long period of trying to figure it out?

Yeah,I had one of those recently; I'll share it with you later.

However, that "big picture" of self-awareness within the hobby is something I frequently discuss with fellow hobbyists. 

One of the best things I've learned in the aquarium hobby is to be realistic about what I can and can't do well. The hobby challenges you and humbles you that way. And that's perfectly okay. Because, like with any endeavor, you can always improve at the craft. You can get good by simply trying, failing, learning, and persevering. It's pretty cool.

You CAN learn to breed fishes. Rear fry. Culture live foods. Plumb your reef tank. Test water. Build a dream company...


Anyone can do those things well with time and dedication.

Although some things are a lot more difficult to "improve" at, IMHO. Some stuff requires that you have some skills that (I Know behaviorists out there will argue) you have to be born with...LIke the art of aquascaping, for example. I mean, sure, we ALL have some creative ability and art is really subjective. However, I the aquarium world, there are  many hobbyists who seem to have that "X factor" nailed.

They are fabulous aquascapers. They could take the same branches and rocks that I have and create something universally appealing 99 times out of 100. That's amazing to me. You may not always like the style of their execution, but you can't argue with their skills.

I must admit, as I have many times- I'm not a very good "technical" aquascaper. 

I couldn't properly arrange an "Iwagumi" rockscape to save my life. I'm about as bad at tying mosses to wood as they come. "Dutch Style"? C'mon! I can't even do "Benign Neglect Style" well! "Golden Ratio?" Heard of it.  Diorama Style? Awed by the skills required; yet would rather keep hamsters than be good at that "style..." (okay, I AM opinionated, at the very least...)

Yeah, so anyways...

I know what my limits and skills are (the limits are many and the skills are few)...and I'm perfectly okay with that. Rather than try to mimic the 1,000 splashy 'scapes I see on my Instagram feed each morning, I do what moves me. 

And I do it well. 

And so do you.

Rather than try to mimic what someone else does so well, I've chosen to direct my aquascaping energies to what I love. I've doubled down on ME. 

What I am is an "aquatic habitat interpreter" of sorts.

Yup. That's me.

I can look at an image of an aquatic habitat and try to recreate aspects of it in an aquarium. Not a stylized version, mind you. I can't do that well. Rather, an unfiltered interpretation of it. A version for the aquarium. 

Now, part of the "interpretation" of natural habitats for an aquarium involves the "mental shifts" that I've told you about many times here. An acceptance that Nature is a perfectly imperfect place. A dirty, seemingly random, earthy place that, when one opens his/her mind to it, is filled with more beauty than 10,000 top Instagram feeds! 

Patience, perseverance, and the willingness to try a few iterations to achieve what you're working on are super important.

And it helps to have some of the materials and tools to do the job! That's where we come in, and this personal story plays out.

As you all know by now, I have a strange obsession with the Igapo flooded forests of the Amazon. The tantalizing random mix of soils, leaves, roots, and botanical materials in water speaks to me. I have spent years gawking at these habitats, learning about them, and trying to figure out ways to represent them both aesthetically and functionally in the aquarium.

It's a habitat that has driven many of my aesthetic choices and aquarium environment experiments over the years. I've sourced materials, scoured scientific papers, and played with many dozens of aquariums over the decades trying to achieve that "functional aesthetic" balance, and to recreate, on some levels, the habitats I love so much.

I've played with various iterations of this habitat in various aquariums for quite a while. I feel like I really have a handle on some of the dynamics of this habitat and how to recreate a functional representation of it.

For some time, we have offered a material called "Senggani Root" as part of our "Twigs and Branches" selection.  It's a rather unique material, with a thick little "trunk" and a delicate "filagree" of roots. It has a lot of potential for use in 'scapes, with its intricate matrix of space for fishes to forage amongst, microorganisms to reproduce in, and mosses to attach to. 

It's awesome stuff.

When my supplier in Borneo approached me about carrying this stuff, there was no hesitation at all. It was love at first sight. However, it's also one of those materials that you can think about how to use, yet when it comes to executing, it's a bit trickier than you might think to get it right. The old adage about "listening" to the wood and it'll tell you how to use it rings true with this stuff.

I played with it for a while. We utilized it in several concept scapes, to great effect. 

Yet, I knew that there was a different way I could use it. 

For the longest time, I've had this vision of a root tangle on the floor of a flooded forest, reaching down among larger root structures towards an earthy, leaf-strewn substrate. I'd seen pics of this sort of thing in Nature and the temptation to do a representation of it haunted me. I have this little tank in my office that I've been dying to execute this in...

I started with a layout featuring a matrix of thicker nano-sized "Spider Wood" pieces as the "superstructure" for the scape. Of course, it needed some detail. It needed the more intricate, delicate look that only actual roots could provide.

What could I use? I needed something delicate, yet sturdy enough to last.

Aha! Finally, an opportunity for the Senggani root to play a part!

I figured that there was a way to work these more delicate, light-colored roots into the structure to create that sort of tangle.

With a little positioning and shuffling, three pieces of this branch were starting to give me the effect I was looking for all these years! A breakthrough of sorts! And the solution was right there in my facility all of these months...

You know when you just "feel it?" Yeah, that was me. I knew that I was finally moving in the direction I needed to be headed.

After a couple of days submerged, the addition of more soil, leaves, and bits of botanicals, and my "igapo root tangle habitat" began to emerge!

Those details- more leaves and botanicals, bits of Pygmy Date Palm fronds, crushed aquatic soil (I used Ultum Nature Systems "Control Soil"), and the passage of time, have yielded the look and hopefully, the function, which I've sought to achieve for so long. Once more of a "patina" emerges on the roots, and the biocover and "sediment" settle in on the Spider Wood and the slowly-decomposing matrix of botanicals on the substrate- I think I'll have what I came for!

The next steps will be done by Nature. She's in control from here. Decomposition, fungal growth, and the reproduction of microbial life in the aquarium will not only dictate how the microcosm functions, but how it looks as the tank matures.

My simple story here is nothing more than one of the many examples of why it's so important to "speak to your truth" and do what YOU love. If you try to do what "the crowd" thinks is cool or "it", you'll miss out on YOU. You'll never get to experience the joy of creating and sharing what you love.

Always double down on YOU.

Stay unique. Stay creative. Stay undaunted. Stay observant. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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