Well, something about being down with the flu that forces you to think about other stuff, besides just the day-to-day of running your business!
Yesterday, I shared with you my long-standing desire to have some sort of tank-build contest, sponsored by Tannin, run somewhat differently than the usual ones you see on line...I've been somewhat critical of the traditional popular contests, so it's time for me to shut up and do something...And I want YOUR input and ideas. It's a different time. The aquarium world is evolving, and we need a contest that does more than just create pretty pictures. We need to use the attention created by a cool contest to educate, inform, and maybe do some social good.
I asked for your ideas, suggestions, and thoughts, in order to make this more of an open source, community-derived thing, and I've loved what we've seen and heard thus far. Response and excitement has been incredible, and we've gotten some pretty amazing ideas thus far!
To recap, here's the basic premise of the contest:
One of the habitats we have a pretty healthy interest in here at Tannin is the so-called "igapo" inundated forest floors of the Amazon. This is a rich, diverse, botanical-influenced habitat which meshes perfectly with our love of botanical-style, blackwater aquariums. We've talked about this habitat several times here in "The Tint." It's seldom been intentionally replicated by hobbyists, until rather recently. And, with the "New Botanical" movement in full swing, and a global community of hobbyists working with botanicals and blackwater more fervently than ever, we kind of think it would be time to bring even more attention to this unique habitat by creating a contest to see how far we've come!
The aim of the contest is for entrants to replicate the look and function of an igapo by using a set of botanicals in a small tank, assembling their scape, and allowing it some time to run in and mature prior to final judging. So, each contestant would receive the same pack of botanical items from us, and could use a many or as few of them as he/she desires in their aquarium. We're probably talking about a two month contest period to really get the tanks going. My thinking is that we'd offer up some inspiration in the form of some photos; possibly videos of these habitats- the ones our friend Mike Tuccinardi has made are perfect for this! These would serve as inspiration, not only from an aesthetic standpoint, but to get entrants thinking about function.
The goal is not to create the static contest-oriented "dioramas" that, in my humble option, dominate the global aquascaping contest landscape. We get it...they're cool and all- but we want to see your skills used to do something different. The idea in OUR contest would be to utilize the skills, attention, and experience that our community has to recreate a specific habitat in the aquarium. It's not just about one or two good photos. Oh, and we're not going to go the other way and represent that every twig and seed pod being from the exact habitat we're trying to recreate in our tanks. That is a different thing altogether. We're trying to call attention to the concept, function, and aesthetic of this habitat by using materials which are a reasonable facsimile of those which accumulate in the iagpo.
So, the creativity is going to come from how you'll utilize the set of materials provided to help recreate this habitat. We're still working out a few details- such as, can you add your own wood and substrate? And plants? I looked into possibly providing these items to contestants; however, both the subjective nature of what constitutes a "good" piece, as well as the financial impact of sending wood to every entrant make this impractical. We'll probably allow contestants to choose their own wood pieces, and if desired, substrate materials.No other botanical, however. Oh, and tank size...we think it should be 10 US gallons (40L) or less. This will work well with the small selection of materials that we'll provide, and will put everyone on a sort of "level playing field."
All entrants are going to go through many of the same processes- the initial setup, seeing biofilms, breakdown of botanicals, dark water, etc. Stuff we know, but that the greater "contest world" never seems to focus on. This is a contest that is not for everyone. Some people will hate this. Those who love "made-for-one-shot-cinematic- "diorama-style"-photo-shop-enhanced 'scapes need not apply. Those of you who hate the idea of having to use one set of materials to create a specific habitat will not want to play. That's okay. This is about embracing the process of a botanical-style aquarium as much as the unique aesthetic. You're going to have to grow a little microcosm to make this work. And share ideas, and be open-minded, humble, and motivated.
And you'll have to "show your work!" We will have "check-in" deadlines at various points. Initial setup, one month, and the final...so we have some documentation and understanding that this is a process as much as a "result." We'll probably have some specific questions you'd have to answer about your aquarium. Not only will this give you a sort of "track" to run on- it will help create a great database of information on this type of aquarium for hobbyists to reference!
And you'll be loved. Yeah. Embraced by our amazing global community of adventurous hobbyists who want to learn and grow and try new stuff. They will support you, empathize with you, and grow with you. Kindness, empathy, and gratitude. Yeah, they're real and part of our company core values, and what we want to instill more of into the hobby.
Now the other thing that goes through my mind is my desire to support Project Piaba and the unique work they do...particularly in the flooded igapo forests- and to be able to use this contest not only as a vehicle to call attention to the botanical/blackwater world we love, but to understand the habitat from which some of our beloved fishes come. I am thinking about an entry fee of sorts. The reality is that a nominal fee- say $5-$10USD or so- makes sense, as we could donate a set amount to Project Piaba, and use a smaller amount to help defray a tiny bit of the costs associated with getting everyone their botanicals. Oh, and it weeds out those who simply want to score a free pack of botanicals! (yeah, there are people like that..I recall a few social media "influencers" we sent stuff to when we first started, who disappeared without a trace after we sent them a bunch of stuff...)
Of course the donation is small...but it's something, and it's a statement. It says to these people that the hobby not only cares about what they do- it cares about the habitat in which they operate. It calls attention to something that we at Tannin find important. I really want to do something- anything-that can help this organization, because I believe so strongly in it.
For a number of reasons (not the least of which is the expense associated with shipping worldwide contestants a pack of botanicals to work with), we'd want to limit the entries to a manageable number- say a maximum of 20-25 entrants. Remember, this is not intended to be some grandiose all-comers aquascaping contest, with thirty categories and all sorts of criteria. We have a business to run- our full-time gig is not running contests, and the time and resources required to running a big-time global contest would detract from our primary mission to build a great business with amazing products, inspiration, and service. We want something more "grass-roots." This is why we've went out of Facebook to get your ideas- and we'll continue to do so as we lock down the final details.
The contest is intended to highlight the emerging segment of blackwater. botanical-style aquariums and your amazing skills. To give everyone some of the same materials to work with, and to have to deal with many of the same issues...Besides, every aquarium that is set up this style increases the knowledge of this type of aquarium, and helps add to the body of work that will inspire others.
Who will judge this? I think- and we're still looking for your ideas- that, rather than a "panel" of "experts"- it might be cool to have the community of "tinters" judge entrants! Now, I reserve the right to change this position before we finalize here, but that would be kind of cool. I think that more and more members of "Tint Nation" understand the criteria of what makes a good botanical-style, blackwater aquarium. And restricting every entry to try to replicate this specific niche puts everyone on a level field.
And prizes! Of course we have to have some really good prizes. We'll probably do 1st, second, and third. Should we do a 4th place, too? We'll try to get some really good prize packages together to make all of the work you'll do worthwhile! I will contact some industry friends to see if we can get some great prizes...Anyone out there who is in a position to offer some prizes, please do let me know!
Oh- and the pics. Look, we want to inspire people. You should be okay with people sharing them on Facebook and other social media. I know that I'd want to share them- less to "sell my stuff" than to share the idea- and provide inspiration on blackwater, botanical-style systems.
This contest is really about a process as much as it is about producing an "end product." The joy of working with some natural materials to create a very specific type of aquarium. The process of learning, sharing, and discovering. And if this works- next time, maybe we'll try another niche. Another challenge.
I'd love to get this contest underway within the next month or so. Let's keep an open dialogue about this, and we'll do our best to create a fun, interesting, and enjoyable contest which will inspire, educate, and excite not only our global community- but the larger aquarium hobby as a whole.
Thanks for the amazing outpouring of enthusiasm we've enjoyed thus far! Let's keep it up.
Stay excited. Stay motivated. Stay innovative.
And Stay Wet.