Is it really "messy?" Or just part of the aesthetic? And isn't that the real beauty? Our evolving "manifesto."

It's fun to see a lot of new faces getting into the botanical-style blackwater/brackish aquarium game. And with all of the new people come new ideas; new experiences. It's beautiful. It's different, perhaps weird to some...

We dream in water.

A lot of people ask me how I got into this particular  genre..What makes it so attractive to me- and to our community? I mean, to many hobbyists, what we do- what we admire about nature and our tanks- is viewed as, well- "messy" by many.

I can appreciate that.

However, when I look at nature, it all makes sense, doesn't it?

She doesn't play by our rules and expectations.

I think that's why we're here.

I realize that many of you are interested in some of the same stuff that I am- or at lest, curious about it...and you've found that Tannin is a sort of "home" for your interest. We've developed a little "tribe", if you will, of original thinkers, tinkerers, and innovators, willing to experiment with stuff that might not be everyone's "cup of tea."

We're a tribe of everyday aquarists with big ideas and a love for all things aquatic. And a healthy population of rebels, misfits, and "troublemakers", who won't accept the "status quo" as the only way.

Our "family." Our "tribe." 

We love the idea of decaying leaves, botanicals, wood. We love the influence that these materials have over the aquatic environment. It's earthy, organic, and natual. 


As in what nature looks like. Functions like...

It does sound a bit strange, I admit, musing and waxing poetic about this stuff. However,  embracing it and studying the way many of the natural environments which some of our most popular tropical aquarium fishes hail from really look like, and how they function inspired me to experiment with this stuff.

After a lifetime of fish keeping, I developed an interest in more accurately portraying these unique environments. Not from the "biotope aquarium contest" appearance accuracy standpoint- but from a more realistically functional one.

I began wondering why these types of tanks were seen in the hobby as a "novelty"; why every "blackwater biotope" tank shown on the forums was greeted with both accolades for being different, and polite, but reserved discussion about the aesthetics being a bit "odd."

"Messy." "Dirty." "Dingy."

That became irresistible inspiration for me to experiment! I mean, the "mainstream" aquarium world coveted bright white tanks with crisp lighting, not a speck of algae, and perfectly manicured plants. I appreciated it- still do-but I can't help but smile when I hear people look at a tank like that and applaud it for looking so "natural!"

I knew that there had to be more than this. That meeting nature where it is- appreciating what it really looks like- is "natural."

And beautiful.

And it wasn't just because I was drawn to the look, feel, function, diversity, and dynamic of the leaf litter, blackwater stream environment. It was because I knew, almost instinctively, that this seemingly random, "messy", and sometimes "ephemeral" environmental niche has potential to change the way we keep and breed many fishes. This "New Botanical- style" aquarium is an aesthetic, a research project, and a mindset, all rolled into one.


It draws in, repels, appeals, and appalls hobbyists. It makes us question what we've upheld for so long as a representation of nature in an aquarium. 

And I love the fact that it is somewhat "contrarian" to the more conventional aquarium interpretation of a "natural" aquarium. I'm fascinated by the mental adjustments that we need to make to accept the aesthetic, and the processes of natural decay, transition, and how these processes affect what's occurring in the aquarium environment.

I love the fact that it needs to be managed; it's not a static, "set-and-forget-", aquascaping-contest-type of aquarium. It's every bit as dynamic as a "traditional" high-tech, "Nature-style" planted aquarium. You need to monitor, observe, react, tweak, etc. Bioload, pH, and other environmental parameters dance together to make it work...just like any other aquarium.

If done in a haphazard, careless  fashion, without an eye towards long-term functionality, an aquarium set up in the "New Botanical-style"gradually falls away into a sort of...mess.

However, I've learned what many of you have over your fish keeping careers: The occasional "mess" is- or often leads to -something beautiful, permanent, and utterly engrossing. So the term "mess", as we might commonly use it, should not be viewed as negative. It's more of a "transition", IMHO!

"Mess" is actually a vehicle to propel us in different aquascaping/experimental directions. It actually is the embodiment of Amano's wabi-sabi philosophy, which embraces the transience of nature- and celebrates it. It appreciates and understands the beauty in the ephemeral aspects of nature.

It requires some study, appreciation, and yes- mental adjustments.

And making those mental adjustments along the way is a healthy, normal part of the art of aquarium keeping. Since we've started Tannin, many hobbyists have shared their cool aquatic displays, breeding projects, and aquascaping concepts with us.

We love that!

Some are traditional concepts with a few new twists (awesome planted tanks, or more natural-looking Apisto biotopes), some are the embodiment of ideas we don't see enough of (like ripariums, vivariums, and paludariums). Still others are experimental, off-the-wall concepts that inspire, educate, and delight.

I love that the real possibility of making a "mess" exists at every turn when we as hobbyists try something new and different. As we've talked about previously, a "mess" in this sense, although occasionally tragic, usually just means that the original idea didn't work as conceptualized; that further enhancement, modification, and iteration is required.

It got a bit "messy."

And that's okay. It's part of the game. It's how nature teaches us. And what nature teaches us is, in my opinion, every bit as valuable- if not more so- than the latest aquascape contest winner who's diorama 'scape is all the rage on the forums.

Nature plays by her own rules, developed over eons. When we accept here rule, embrace her aesthetics...and make a mental shift to something that the rest of the world might call messy- we can truly appreciate it's real beauty.

It's okay to accept a little "mess" sometimes. It can lead to something beautiful.

Today's simple, but important-to-grasp idea.

Stay excited. Stay innovative. Stay rebellious. Stay open to the process. Stay skeptical. Stay original...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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