Okay, so I'm like one of those aquascapers (I use the term "aquascaper" sort of loosely, really) who tends to find what works and sticks with it for...Well, for a long freaking time! I've never been one of those kinds of guys who has to change up a tank every 3 months- you know, like the well-known 'scapers. I'd NEVER be a competitive 'scaper (not just for that reason, of course...there's this thing called "skill" that I am lacking...).
I rarely changed stuff up.
Well, until quite recently.
To my own dismay, an often to that of my friends, lately I'll get in a sort of "zone" where I try to achieve a certain "something"- whatever that is- and I might set up a tank with a decent aquascape, only to do an almost immediate "edit" and add or subtract some element that gets me closer to the original "vision" I had. Almost like a child playing with blocks, I sort of "figure shit out as I go."
I realize that, on a purely "meta" level, a lot of my "restlessness" lately was out of a crassly commercial sensibility- a desire to showcase our botanicals in a variety of different situations and "looks." And lately, I've been on this bewildering tear of "aquascape revisions" on my home blackwater tank. And I sort of rationalize it by telling myself it's for the greater good. You know, we are (self-annointed) "purveyors of inspiration", so...
So, back to the present...
Sometimes the idea comes by studying my creation. Sometimes it's from going surfing or sipping my fave coffee, or a glass of that oh-too-sweet white wine I'm fond of. Other times it's from gaining additional inspiration from elsewhere (usually, natural habitat videos and pics, in my case), and still other times, it's sort of a "happy accident" that I stumble on something that works!
Something that triggers...something.
Yes, sometimes you have "happy accidents" which result in something coming out far better than you expected. And more on point with your idea.
Ever experience that? I'll bet that you have.
I experienced the "happy accident phenomenon" recently when playing around with "Spider Wood" in my 50-gallon home blackwater tank, which was recently chronicled almost ad nasueum, as I do with most of my recent adventures.
Not to bore you, but I sort of came up with this configuration that, although more "stylized" in appearance, was really cool to me...For like 7 days, until I happened to look at another one of those "underwater igarape" videos and realized that, no matter how much I like "stylized" scapes, my first love is the random, wild, natural look of "biotope-inspired" (notice I didn't say "strictly biotopic?") aquariums.
And I was like, "Fellman- this tank is sooo not you. It's gonna suck."
I knew that, try as I might, I owed never be happy with a purely "artistic" aquascape at this point. I so appreciate them. Secretly covet them. But they're just not me. And like many of you- I just can't be what I'm not.
Self-awareness. God, I have it in droves.
So, for an unprecedented 2nd tie in one week, out came the drop cloth and the towels, I ripped out the wood and "had at it."
And damn it was fun!
And with a renewed, honest sense of purpose, I just sort of went for it, not really knowing how the scheme would look right away- and not giving a crap, either. This time, allowing myself to stop, look at it, and maybe wait a day or tow to get the look I wanted...which- let's face it- is a flooded forest floor, in all of its random "dirtiness"- and a vibe so "anti-design" that it actually looks like a design!
I mean, a large percentage of you re going to look at my "edit" on my design and be like, "Really Fellman- looks almost the same as before..."
I admit, it's not a super-radical redesign, but it is pretty apparent in person- and will become much more so as it evolves over the next few weeks.
Now, I wanted a certain "flow" to the wood stack; something that reminded me of the little aggregations you find in the flooded forest areas- bends and patches of exposed roots that curve around a bit. Kind of nuanced, but based on these natural features. I also wanted some "negative space" for fishes to aggregate and shoal. I realized that the dimension of this aquarium lend themselves to keeping some of the space intact for a bigger "feel."
And I realized that the fishes themselves would be the real "stars"...and that I wanted a lot of vertical space for them to aggregate and swim. The key seemed to be finding wood and hardscape which had the right sort of random, tangled look, while still leaving significant "vertical" for the fishes to shall over. Kind of like a reef, actually. I still have two pieces of wood to add to the right rear of the wood stack, so you'll see a difference in the next pics I share of this tank.
I said it before and I'll say it again, that Spider Wood, which I dissed for so long, is actually pretty good for this sort of thing! And the "nano-sized" pieces that we select for you at random are every bit as nice- and useful- as the slightly larger WYSIWYG ones that we offer! Added bonus? It saturates and sinks quickly, and It tint's the water wonderfully!
In smaller tanks with say, Tucanoichthys tucano, or maybe some Ruby Tetras, I could see a tiny, but killer biotope-style tank coming to life with this stuff...When this tank is ready, I'll ask my friend Johnny Ciotti to shot some pics and video and I think you'll see what I mean. Although he's so talented, he can even make my hack jobs look good, so...
And I really took another good, hard look at Mike Tuccinardi's underwater videos of igapo habitats and just stared, virtually frame by frame- at the rather intricate detail that one can glean from this habitat. After years of doing this, I believe that the key to really re-creating a flooded forest floor aquarium is to constantly remind your self that what you're attempting to replicate is...a forest floor, which just happens to be covered with, say, a meter of water!
And it makes more sense when you 'scape.
Typical forest floors have lots of aggregations of leaves, branches, seed pods, and other material from the trees and shrubs in the area. And if you notice, leaves tend to aggregate in little pockets under the roots and branches, and in the flooded areas, decompose "in situ."
Oh, back to the "Spider Wood" one more time, for just a second...
My recent "re-imaging" of my home blackwater tank was to make use of "Spider Wood", which, quite frankly, I avoided using for a long time, because a) I hate those goddam, stupid "artificial moss trees" that some scapers drool over (Sorry, guys), and b) the tangled look of each piece was almost "too much", lol.
However, what I ultimately realized (and f-ed up royally in my first iteration of this!) was that if you sort of slowly work them together, you can create a sort of "contiguous structure" of what looks like exposed roots...perfect, because that's what the damn things are anyways...Yes, a really good representation of the habitat I geek out over is possible with this stuff.
And what's cool is that you can let some leaves and botanicals aggregate among the tangles, creating pockets very reminiscent of the igapo! And in my instance, the relationship very low "vertical" of the wood achieved a sense of scale and openness that I have previously missed in attempts to replicate this habitat.
I mean, the real wonder of it all is that- again- it's literally (OMG, I sound like a Khardassian!) a forest floor that has been inundated with a meter or so of water...so it makes perfect sense!
(Notice I keep telling myself that, lol)
Despite the chaotic aggregations of botanical materials you find in this habitat, the bulk of what you see are... wait for it... leaves. And I think that, in the cozy confines of a modest-sized aquarium, you simply don't want too many elements competing for your attention. Oh, shameless plug: For sexy smaller leaves, you can't beat the Texas Live Oak Leaves and Malaysian Yellow Mangrove Leaves!
I think that I will limit my botanicals to a scant few varieties- smaller ones, or types which fit the scale and "feel" of the scape. We'll see as we go here.
That means...more figuring it out as I go. More "edits." More iterations. More indecision. More self-doubt. More revelations.
Through this whole seemingly annoying practice and the ensuing commentary, I realized one thing: I love playing with my aquariums.
Can it get any better than that?
I don't think so.
It's my hope that this sort of "stream of consciousness" update on my aquatic activities resonates with some of you who go through similar journeys with your aquariums. If not, it least gives you some idea of the mindset of the kooky guy behind Tannin Aquatics!
Until next time...
Stay creative. Stay inspired. Stay curious. Stay motivated. Stay relentless...
And Stay Wet.