Interpretations, artistry, and tint...

Throughout our years-long journey into the world of botanical-style aquariums, we've been lucky enough to see some "evolution" in the "styles" that we as hobbyists have played with. Today, as we're counting down the hours to our annual "Tint Tuesday" sale, I figured it's as good a time as any to share a few inspiring pics of Nature and aquariums that will hopefully get you thinking of ways to play with botanicals in your next aquarium...

People have asked me what aquariums or ideas have excited me recently, so I figured it would be fun to share just a few with you here. Sure, I could probably name a hundred more, but all one really needs to do is look through our blog, or Instagram and Facebook feeds to find inspiring work from our global community- as well as the "work" of Nature herself!

FIrst off- it all starts with Nature doing her thing- as she's done for eons. Amazing wild shots, like this one from David Sobry, provide unbelievable inspiration for functionally aesthetic aquariums. The longer you stare at such images, the more subtle, but important details and clues Nature provides- many of which- if not all- can be replicated both functionally and aesthetically in the aquarium! 

One of my fave pics ifrom Nature is this one, from our friend, Tai Strietman, from Brazil's Pantanal region. I like this pic because it Shows a few of our fave elements working together: Leaves, root tangles from terrestrial plants, and a sandy/soil bottom. As you probably know by now, I'm damn-near obsessed with this combination, as it's really the essence of our botanical-style aquariums.

Of course, such a heavy leaf-litter "infused" habitat- a flooded forest floor- is what inspired me to try an all leaf-litter tank last year. Among the most simple, and easy-to-run botanical-style blackwater aquariums I've ever played with, it was home to a group of Green Neon Tetra, which not only subsisted off of whatever micro/macrofauna was occurring in the decaying leaf litter bed, but resulted in two spawnings!

This experimental tank will never win an aquascaping trophy, but it stands out (if I say so, myself!) as an exercise in almost "extreme  natural minimalism" , representing a leaf litter bed and nothing else- looking and functioning much like those which occur in the wild. It is a unique exercise that I'd liek to "scale up" at some future point for sure! 

Of course, the aquarium hobby doesn't exist in the experimental world only, so aesthetics are par for the course. Two new aquariums from two of our friends have really stood out as amazing expressions of the art and sicken of "functional aesthetics."

Mitch Mazur is a talented, pure scape. His tanks are fabulous, and he has a style which lends itself well to all sorts of different materials. When he executed his tastes blackwater, botanical-style aquarium, my jaw dropped. He was able to fuse a very stylish design with a minimum of botanical elements, yet still creating a "functional aesthetic" interpretation of a blackwater habitat.

The grace and elegance of a large wood "trunk" (an idea we've covered here in "The Tint" before) with some negative space and contrasting leaves and branches creates a beautiful and very natural-looking home for Pterophyllum and a few characins. 

By not loading every single open space with dozens and dozens of botanical elements, each one is an area of interest, and stands alone as an interesting "contributor" to the overall scape. Guava leaves and Banana stem pieces seem to work so well with the delicate branches and strong roots, providing interesting foraging areas for the resident fishes.

All in all, this is the type of aquarium which can bridge the gap between a pure biotope and a strictly artistic 'scape. The real essence of "biotope-inspired"- the area in which we all love to play!

Our friend Kjartan Flatråker is as talented a scape as you'll find- and one who has taken to the botanical-style blackwater aquarium with an ease that is truly inspiring! he understands the "function" of botanical-style blackwater aquariums as well as anyone, and has never been afraid of decomposition, biofilms, and tinted water.  

His latest work is another one of those "biotope-inspired" pieces that, similar to Mitch's tank, mixes strong and delicate botanical elements in a unique way that seems to have a broader appeal.

Although not yet "wet", we can tell where this one is headed! Once the botanicals soften, the wood acquires a "patina", and the water tints, this tank will be a spectacular aesthetically-strong interpretation of just about any natural blackwater habitat!

Now, when you ask me about the pic which really launched my obsession with the idea of leaf litter beds and flooded forests, it would have to be this one from Mike Tuccinardi from the Amazon region.

This one image is literally why I took a "sabbatical" from the reef keeping world, sold my interest in my coral business, and went on to launch Tannin Aquatics. A classic igapo habitat- a flooded forest, replete with leaves, branches, seed pods, and terrestrial plants growing underwater. And the tinted, slightly turbid water...Perhaps the absolute perfect essence of what we're all about here. I find endless inspiration in this one shot!

Of course, we are fortunate to work with talented artistic aquascapers of all types. My dear friend, Johnny Ciotti, who is our Creative Director at Tannin, happens to be among the best. He has a unique ability to take simple elements and turn them into provocative, inspiring works that anyone could recreate some elements of. His aesthetic interpretation of the Rio Tapajos is such a tank.

This tank, with it's clear-to-mild tint, is an excessive in simplicity...Manzanita arranged in a downward configuration- much like you'd find beaches in Nature. It creates an intricate tangle for the comfort of the resident fishes.

Of course, Nature provides no shortage of examples of this, as Tai's shot shows.

Of course, you can create a scape specifically around the needs of a particular fish- which is exactly what I did when I set up a small aquarium for one of my fave small chcarcins, Tucanoichthys tucano. The fish is native to blackwater habitats choked with root tangles, terrestrial branches, and leaves. This is a perfect subject for a botanical-style aquarium!

I utilized Melastoma root, some "spider wood", and some live oak leaf litter to set the scene, and the result was one of my most personally satisfying "biotope-inspired" tanks ever.

After the tank had a chance to run in for a while, the water took on the golden brown that we as blackwater fans love so much. The tank was ridiculously easy to create, yet strikingly complex in its appearance. The "Tucano Tangle" as it came to be called, seems to have inspired a few people, for which I am very honored.

Yet another aquarium designed with botanicals around a specific fish was this work by Chris Englezou, which really captures the essence of a wild Discus habitat. The deft mix of elements creates a relaxing, familiar habitat for these much-loved fish. There is something about a tan set up in this manner that is amazingly satisfying! I find Chris' tank incredibly inspiring.

As you know, I've been fascinated by the year-round dynamics of flooded forests and meadows, and played with what I call the "Urban Igapo" concept. Setting up an aquarium as a "dry" scape, with terrestrial grasses and plants, then flooding it and desiccating it once again is to me one of the really fascinating things we as hobbyists can experiment to learn more about the dynamics of these unique habitats.

The concept lent itself well to a few different executions, each utilizing different combinations of soils, plants, and/or grasses.

And of course, it was fun to set up a display that represented a specific time of "late inundation" to serve as an example of a tank with completely different aesthetics that we're used to seeing- essential "dormant" grasses and plants, with a highly sedimented substrate and turbid water. Different. Unusual...and surprisingly beautiful, in a different sort of way,  if I say so myself!

Of course, no photo-essay on ideas which fascinate me would be complete without  a quick look at our brackish water mangrove habitat. A tinted, brackish water tank served not only as a "proof of concept" for what I call an "elevated" approach to brackish water aquariums, but as a way to appreciate anew soem of the unique aesthetic possibilities this neglected hobby speciality offers.

I'm perhaps most proud of this one, simply because it was one of those times when I acted on an idea that I knew wasn't being executed by anyone, and I had to create the "proof of concept" myself to help validate it. Sediment, mangroves and their branches, decomposing leaves, and 1.010 water combined to create what I feel is one of my most enjoyable tanks in years!

As much as I've wanted to move on from this tank, I simply can't bring myself to tear it down just yet, lol.

In the ned, I could probably highlight dozens of tanks and ideas which inspired me in 2019, but these are jus ta few that come to mind at the moment. 

I hope to see YOU creating more beautiful, inspiring work in 2020 and beyond! 

Stay inspired. Stay excited. Stay creative. Stay resourceful...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response

Joshua E Morgan
Joshua E Morgan

November 25, 2019

Nice tanks! My blackwater 5 gallon (now about a month old) is attractive for sure, but no match for these tanks. I hope it eventually approaches their calibur with time :) (At least the plants like it…the Mayaca fluvitalis has grown two inches in a week!)

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