The curious contest query..(continued)

From the "...We've been talking about this forever..." Department:

Because I've received at least 4 emails this week alone asking if we're ever going to do an "aquascaping constest" of some sort, I suppose I have to talk about this stuff again!

It's sort of "unfinished business", huh?

Yes, it's time for me to start ruminating about the idea of an "aquascapinge contests!  contest" yet again. And, well- there's no easy way to say it...Shit, I hate contests! Okay, well, I hate how they're usually judged...Or maybe I just hate them, period?

I'm not certain yet...

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... 😂

Yet, people keep asking us about having a "contest!" 

I know we talked about this thing I called the "Igapo Challenge" some time back (about 3 years ago)...It's something that I know we'll do later, especially after our "Nature Base" substrates come online...

However, I think our first contest needs to have a broader appeal than just replicating a very specific environmental niche...

It needs to be a bit more inclusive, and do more than just reward the "best-looking tank." I think that's actually too subjective. I think we need to honor tanks which embrace the functional, executional, and philosophical aspects of the botanical-style aquarium hobby movement.

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, botanical-style 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, from vivariums to paludariums.

I'm trying to figure out criteria...And it's not easy, because there are a lot of things in typical contests that drive me crazy. And, if we do this, I know that will personally have to restrain myself from railing on any of our judges who give points for "Golden Ratio", "Iwagumi" rock placement, "proper grouping" of aquatic plants, 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..."  It's great for a biotope-centric contest, but for our "biotope inspired" mindset, it's just too much, IMHO. Not only would that degree of outright pretentiousness make me want to vomit- I think it would defeat the purpose of this contest idea.

So, no need to give exact GPS locations, etc.

Rather, I'd like to emphasize our "craft" of natural, botanical-style aquariums, taking inspiration from unusual environmental niches and "translating" them into aquarium s. I'd want to place more emphasis on the idea/inspiration and its execution, and less emphasis on particular ecological niche or "style" of tank. 

Does that make sense?

We'd have to get this right. And make it clear to contestants what the "big idea" is inspire, inform, and educate on technique and inspiration.

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. On the other hand, if you can pull that shit off...Respect. 

Oh, and if you give your entry a name; you know, "The wandering trail to Enlightenment" or something like that- immediate disqualification. Seriously. 😍 Not in OUR contest.

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 unedited aesthetics of Nature- and the function of the aquarium.

Entrants won't be rewarded for "fantasy-style diorama" tanks, for sure! Wrong contest.

And of course, I know some jackass will try to enter a hair-algae-smothered rocksacape with piles of of uneaten food over fish-poop-saturaed #3 aquarium gravel and claim, "It's unedited Nature, bro- deal with it!" We will, by ignoring it. The idea here is not to give the middle finger to basic aquarium fundamentals..No, you have to understand http. If you've read our blogs and followed our social media, you understand what our philosophy and "modus operandi" is here.

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. Maybe I'm wrong; let me know your thoughts on that.


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"- it takes 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. That would likely turn off a lot of the "BS entries", right?


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! Again, 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.

Good stuff.

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 Interpretation of an Ecological Niche" 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?"


Okay, so, we'll be chatting about this more, I'm sure... 

Until next time...

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

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

September 08, 2020

Hi Helene!

Very excited (and humbled!) to hear this! I hope that you have a really wonderful experience and enjoy the process! Be brave! Sharing of ANY natural, botanical-style aquarium helps advance the “state of the art” and inspired others! Best of luck…we look forward to seeing you work!



September 08, 2020

Hi Scott. Because of all your coachings (Podcasts and blog), i am working on a ‘natural’ tinted aqua. I chose a 64g and i am working it up very slowly. Taking my time and enjoying the process. I will take pics of my work and i may even register…if i can get over the fact that i rarely show others my tanks. Could be fun to be bold!

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