Out of the "frying pan..."


Yes, it's time for me to start ruminating about stuff that I've been plying with in my head for years...You know, the idea of an aquascaping contest. Now, with my complete disdain for the typical aquascaping contests- the absurd rules, the endless arguments over format, attitudes, etc, I feel like I'm likely opening up myself for more trouble... 😂

I know we talked about the "Igapo Challenge" some time back...It's something that I know we'll do later...However, I think our first contest needs to have a broader appeal...

It needs to be a bit more inclusive, and do more than just reward the best-looking tank.

That being said, I think a contest can perform some valuable functions in our world. First, it can help show the current state of the art in truly natural aquariums. Not just blackwater aquariums...As we've seen, the world we've all evolved here at Tannin has grown to encompass botanical-style blackwater, brackish, planted, and other types of unique systems.

I'm trying to figure out criteria...I mean, I will personally have to restrain myself from railing on any of our judges who look at "Golden Ratio", "Iwagumi" rock placement, or other conventional constructs like that. Also, I wouldn't want to hold entrants to being compelled to enter stuff as specific as "Small meander adjacent to Rio Parauari, high water mark, 30km north of the town of Alto Maues..."  Not only would that degree of pretentiousness make me want to vomit- I think it would defeat the purpose of this contest idea. I don't want to encourage insanity. This would not be a strict "biotope" contest. It's that whole "biotope-inspired" thing.

That's why, I'd vet the judges carefully. It would just be ugly, otherwise!  I mean, sure, I'm not saying that we'd want to see entries like,  "Liquid Methane River on the Saturnian moon of Titan"- that's too geeky and weird even for me.

Oh, and if you give your entry a name; you know, "The wandering trail to Enlightenment" or something like that- immediate disqualification. Seriously. 😍 

Just enter something cool. Describe what it purports to represent.

We'd likely have some set of questions that comes with entry- so that observers and judges alike can learn from your work...

The idea- our "mission statement", if you will- would be to create a contest- an exhibition, really- which celebrates our love of the "natural style" aquarium. And more important, celebrates the uniqueness; the aesthetics of Nature- and the function of the aquarium. Entrants won't be rewarded for fantasy-style "diorama-style" tanks, for sure! 

I suppose, the whole thing also requires us to have a definition of what we think a "natural style aquarium" is in our little contest. Well, here are some of my initial thoughts:

First off, the aquarium should incorporate a large percentage of materials such as botanicals, leaves, driftwood, etc., utilized in such a manner as to create a functional representation of a wild aquatic habitat. In other words, an aquarium that operates, not just looks good.

I think that vivariums, paludariums, and aquariums should all be entered into the mix...No separate categories for them. Because we will likely evaluate a given system  on both aesthetics and function, and we want to encourage "cross-over" work by aquatic hobbyists- I don't see any reason why we should have all sorts of complicated category distinctions.  Same with display size. I see no reason why a 5-gallon aquarium can't be evaluated using the same criteria as you would a 250-gallon aquarium.


Oh, and I think it would be important to show some "evolution" of each entry. In other words, more than just a "here's the rock work as we set up the tank" bullshit. I'm talking, several shots taken throughout the "pre-entry" life of the tank, from startup to submission- perhaps taken over the course of 4-5 months. Yeah- any talented 'scaper can do an "instascape"- a talented aquarist can evolve and manage it over time.

This would, of course, necessitate a longer time window for entries. Like, there would be an entry period, and then an "evolution period", and finally, the closing date when submissions need to be received by.

And stuff like decomposition, detritus, biofilm- even algal growth would not be penalized. In fact, unless it's specific to a given niche you're attempting to replicate, I'd think that we'd actually look suspiciously on any tank that looks super pristine and perfect! Of course, I'm not saying to enter a poorly-maintained fish-death factory...What I am suggesting is that we  should see entrants which attempt to "meet Nature where it is"- that being the intersection of science, art, and evolution.

Nature is not a perfectly ordered, pristine place. Your entries don't need to be, either. 

And then there would be a strong judging component for originality and innovation. Like, if you tackled some problem uniquely to create your functionally aesthetic entry, we'd love to hear about it. No secrets in this game. It's as much about sharing technique as it is about exhibiting the results of it. And no, you don't have to only use materials you've purchased from Tannin in your entries. Sure, we'd love to see some stuff, but to make that a requirement would be- well, just sort of lame.

And of course...prizes. If we're asking you to do a 6-month commitment to a contest, they have to be good. So, likely, we'll have stuff like aquariums, lights, accessories, gift cards, etc.

Likely, there would be a nominal entry fee (like $10USD or less), which would cover some of the expenses for administering and promoting the contest and entries. We'd really want to share your work with the world.

And I think we'd have a first-third award schedule. And perhaps a couple of other categories? Like, "Most Unique" or "Most Innovative"- something like that?

Well, that's what I have for you so far...I'm absolutely open to hearing what you think- to your suggestions, concerns, etc.

My God, what have I unleashed now?

"Out of the frying pan- into the  damn fire, right?"


Until next time...

Stay creative. Stay thoughtful. Stay diligent. Stay unique. Stay generous...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment