Endless editing...a hinderance, or part of the process?


Like so many of you, I love thinking about ideas for unusual concept aquariums. I like to look at things a bit differently. Tannin was founded based upon looking at things a bit differently; helping create a different sort of vibe and aesthetic with different types of natural materials.  I think I have a strong sense of  the kind of aesthetic that I find attractive, like many of you, and sort of "stay in my lane", so to speak. I try to stay true to my vision.

However, occasionally- I get these bouts of what I call “aquarium indecisiveness.” Do you ever get that? I've touched on this before, but it's really become a predictable habit with me. Let me explain. It’s like, I’ll have this awesome plan for stocking the aquarium I've been working on for a while; I get this vision of executing on the plan and ending up with an aquarium that looks just like I imagined it would, aquascaped exactly how I envisioned, stocked exactly how I envisioned, and running just like I expected. So, I tediously conceive, design, build, and equip the system. When I finish setting it up, the concept that I spent countless sleepless nights conceiving comes together. Then…I stare at the promising, yet unstocked new tank and…edit.


Yeah, you heard me, I’ll “edit.”, gradually dissecting my beautiful concept and morphing it into something else. Moving this. Re-positioining that. Taking out an element, A lot of people will call this process “evolution”, or view it as a necessary stage in the development of an aquarium. I call it “ADD” or something! Not sure.  It's like  all of the sudden, I’ll see an article about "ephemeral floating leaf litter beds" or a dive video of an Amazonian igarape, and my carefully conceived African River biotope goes out the window.

Off we go into a totally different direction!

I think I’m what I like to classify as a “Perpetual Editor” -type of aquarium personality.

Now, don’t get me wrong. My core beliefs about aquarium keeping are typically unchanging..well, they evolve, as you've seen on these pages, based on experience-like everyone else. And, like you, I am always open to suggestions to do something better. Sometimes, this is a good thing. I mean, if your idea was to develop a Knifefish community in a 50-gallon tank, and you "pivoted" to a 700-gallon tank after running it by some friends, that’s a very good thing! “Coming to your senses” is what it’s called.

However, my changes are often more subtle: For example, I was planning on stocking an all-South-American characin system, but ended up creating a Rasbora-dominated biotope instead.

You know, that kind of thing...

Totally different part of the world and all.

Or I'll tell myself that I don’t want any cichlids in this tank, until I run across an amazing Apistogrammayou know, a chance meeting that throws the whole plan into disarray! Sounds oddly romantic and exciting, only we’re talking about an aquarium, not meeting the girl or guy of your dreams, ya know?

Yeah, it’s a burden, this endless "susceptibility to suggestion", right? Perhaps it’s an advantage, because it gives me the chance to correct things that would otherwise be disastrous, shortsighted, or just..stupid. Or, perhaps it has stifled some brilliant work. I’d like to think not, but you never know. I greatly admire those of you who can create- and stick- to a plan for your tanks.

I can think of a couple of examples from fish keeping history where hobbyists have executed exactly what they intended- with amazing results and surprisingly influential impact on the hobby.

Probably the first that comes to my mind is a reef system. It's the awesome “Drop-off” reef system of Philippe Grosjean of Belgium, which I’ve featured in writings before. Philippe is a marine biologist by training, and wanted to develop a system that simulated a ledge where the shallow reef structure drops off. This necessitated, among other things, the development of a custom-shaped aquarium, and solving a few other problems, such as lighting, creating adequate flow, etc. Pretty amazing, and The purpose of this piece is not to analyze these tanks, merely to discuss them as this tank configuration has since led to the design of several mass-produced, commercially-made versions that are proving to be quite popular! Talk about influencing others!

Another one that I've fell in love with much more recently would be the amazing blackwater tank of Tai Streitman. This beautiful  aquarium combined functional design and interesting technique with an aquascape that took into account the biotope it was trying to replicate, as well as ratio, perspective, color balance, and viewing angles, to form what I feel is one of the most aspirational biotope-style aquariums I've ever seen. Tai started with a plan, and executed to the letter. No real deviation from plan. None. The result was truly a tank that scored on all levels.

Look, I’m not saying that you need to have architectural renderings, a monumental checklist, and never deviate for a second in order to have success. Rather, I’m suggesting that conceiving- and sticking to- a plan for your aquarium is never a bad thing.

Yeah, like I can take my own suggestion so well, right?

On the other hand, being a “Perpetual Editor” archetype of fish keeper also has his/her advantages. mainly, the ability to modify a plan as he/she goes if he sees a better way. Almost categorically, the “Perpetual Editor” has a looser, more flexible approach to  aquarium planning, construction, and management, and is perhaps more in tune with the latest and greatest trends, techniques, and philosophies of the aquarium game. (and of course, more susceptible to being influenced by a lot of stuff!)

However, there is a sort of “sub-category” in the “Perpetual Editor” classification…well, actually, two: The “Trend Jumper”, who, as the name implies, switches direction at the drop of a hat in order to capitalize on the latest trends, fads, or ideas. The other, what I call an “Active Listener”, will make changes based on discourse with other hobbyists, who share ways to do the thing that you’re trying to do in a different, or perhaps, better, more efficient manner. 

One thing about being a “Perpetual Editor” is that you are constantly availing yourself to the latest information, and, in the case of the “Active Listener”, probably having great dialogue with other hobbyists who have more experience doing what you’re thinking of doing.

The online world and social media have enabled the “Active Listener” to develop his or her idea to the ultimate degree. Although, the "danger" of being an “Active Listener” is that you can easily “lose control” of your plan by listening to every critique, suggestion, and opinion out there.  And the "trend jumpers?" Well, e-commerce has completely enabled these people, right? Regardless of your aquarium-keeping philosophy, a certain degree of independence and individuality is a key requirement to be happy, I think.

And in a way, being a “Perpetual Editor” is not really a bad thing. I mean, you’re always aware of what’s going on in your tank, you’re constantly thinking of improvements, you're totally aware of the “Latest and Greatest” in the hobby, and you are “nimble”- able to change directions "on a dime", as they say. So, don’t despair, sufferers of ADD (Which, IMHO is pretty much everyone in the aquarium keeping world, IMHO...a thesis I'll have to revisit at some point), it helps you be a better, more “agile” hobbyist.

And the great 'scapers, like Jeff Senske of Aquarium Design Group, listen to what's in their heart- pull inspiration from the world around them- and execute based on their instinct and aesthetic. They approach it with an almost yoga-esque calm and vision that comes from being totally in touch with their feelings. It's amazing to see the work that comes from guys like Jeff, Johnny Ciotti, Luis Navarro, George Farmer, Oliver Knott..They do it with real "soul."

So being a "perpetual editor" is an interesting burden- or blessing, depending upon how you look at it. And I've just looked at it from the tank design and 'escaping perspective! I’d like to hear from those of you out there who “suffer” from this double-edged sword, and how it impacts your hobby experience.

Let’s hear your stories, your feelings. Are you a “Perpetual Editor?”

Ponder that…And until next time…

Stay inspired. Stay true to yourself. Stay open-minded. Stay creative.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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