The delta at the intersection of science and art...

On the heals of Jonny Archer's well-received guest editorial yesterday, I thought it might be a good time to reiterate, once again, part of what Tannin's "POV" is in this "movement" towards more functionally aesthetic aquariums. A few of you asked about our inspiration. And, with such a huge influx of new fans into our community, it's as good a time as any for us to discuss and even to demonstrate our philosophical leanings.

Well, you asked!

I believe that aquarists are wildly curious about the natural world, but that they tend to "overcomplicate" what is unknown, not well understood, or outside of the lines of "conventional aquarium aesthetics and practices"-and literally "polish out" the true beauty of Nature in the process-often ascribing "rules" and "standards" for how our interpretations of Nature must look. 

Suffice it to say, there are NO rules in rediscovering the unfiltered art beneath the surface. Our "movement" believes in representing Nature as it exists in both form and function, without removing the very attributes of randomness and resulting function that make it so amazing.

We are utterly inspired by this.

We are about the preservation of biofilms, decomposition, and that "patina" of biocover that exists when terrestrial materials contact water. Understanding that these materials break down and influence the environment...and that this process doesn't always conform to our hobby interpretation of what is "beautiful." An appreciation of the ephemeral, the transitional. 


It's a sexy hashtag that we've embraced over the years for Tannin- it sounds cool. Yet, it's one which, in my opinion, captures the ultimate "essence" of our philosophy.  A way of capturing aspects of nature in our aquarium in a manner that accepts it as it is, rather than how we want it to be.

Simplicity. Complexity. Creativity. Transience. "Randomness."

We receive so many PM's, emails, phone calls, and other inquiries from hobbyists when we run pieces featuring pics and discussions about natural environments as topics for modeling our aquaria, excited about the details, and how they can be replicated in an aquarium.

This is a really cool thing.

And the cool thing that we've noticed is that every aquarium pic that is shared  by our community, which incorporates botanical materials and other elements of nature in a similar matter is studied, elevated..often celebrated- as a representation of the genius of nature in all of its random glory.

It makes sense.

In my own rebellious way, I can't help but think that part of this enthusiasm which our community has for this stuff is that aquarium hobbyists in general have a bit of a "rebellious streak", too, and that maybe, just maybe- we're a bit well, "over" the idea of the "rule-centric", mono-stylistic, overly dogmatic thinking that has dominated the aquascaping world for the better part of a decade.

Maybe it's time to look at nature as an inspiration again- but to look at nature as it exists- not trying to sanitize it; clean it up to meet our expectations of what an aquarium is "supposed to look like." And by the same token, understanding that not every hobbyist wants to-or can-go to the other extreme-trying to validate every twig, rock, and plant in a given habitat, as if we're being "scored" by some higher power- a universal "quality assurance team"- which must certify that each and every rock and branch is, indeed from the Rio Manacapuru, for example, or your work is just some sort of travesty.

Not that there is anything wrong with this pursuit, or that I take any issue with talented hobbyists who enjoy that route. I identify with them more than the "high concept" aquascape crowd for sure! I simply believe that there is a "middle ground" of sorts, where nature is the primary influence, and accepting it and attempting to replicate it "as it is" -becomes the goal.

It's at the delta at the intersection of science and art.

I believe that its essential to take inspiration from the reality of nature, not just its distilled "essence."

Maybe it's time for us to once and for all accept that things are not aesthetically "perfect" in nature, in the sense of being neat and orderly/ratio-adherent from a "design" aspect. Understanding that in nature, you have branches, leaves, rocks, and botanicals materials scattered about on the bottom of streams in a seemingly random, disorderly pattern. Or are they? Could it be that current, weather events, and wind distribute materials the way they do for a reason? Could our fishes benefit from replicating this dynamic in our aquariums?

And, is there not incredible beauty in that apparent "randomness?"

Now, I realize that a glass box is NOT a flooded Amazonian forest, mangrove estuary, or Asian peat bog. I realize that we're constrained by size and water volume. We've touched on that hundreds of times here over the years. However, it can look and function like one to some degree, right? The same processes which occur on a grander scale in nature also occur on a "micro-scale" in our aquariums. And we can understand and embrace these processes- rather than resist or even "revile" them- as an essential part of the aquatic environment.

It's entirely possible to accept the appearance of biofilms, "murky" water, algae, decomposing botanical materials, and can be managed to take advantage of their benefits. You know, accepting them as supplemental food sources, "nurseries" for fry, and as interesting little ways to impart beneficial humic substances and dissolved organics into the water.

Please don't misunderstand me here.

I'm not attacking "the establishment" and saying that every perfectly manicured competition aquascape sucks. I'm not saying that if a tank doesn't have blackwater, biofilms, and brown leaves that it's "uninspired" or "fake" somehow. I'm merely questioning the insanely high level of esteem which the broader aquascaping world seems to attach to conforming to some rigid style, replicating the work of others, and being rather close-minded to the work of Nature, and that of hobbyists who try truly different things in their tanks.


Some of the most amazing comments we receive after sharing underwater pics of the wild habitats of Amazonia and elsewhere are from hobbyists who, at first, thought that some of these pics were from someones' aquarium! In a few instances, some of the close ups of botanical-themed aquaria are virtually indistinguishable from wild scenes!

That says a lot. It shows how far we've come.

What an incredible dynamic!

Blurring the lines between nature and the aquarium, from an aesthetic sense, at the very least- and in many respects, from a "functional" sense as well, proves just how far hobbyists have good you are at what you do. And... how much more you can do when you turn to nature as an inspiration, and embrace it for what it is.

I'm not telling you to turn your back on the modern popular aquascaping scene; to disregard or dismiss the brilliant work being done by aquascapers around the world, to develop a sense of superiority or snobbery, or conclude that everyone who loves this stuff is a sheep...


Not at all.

I'm simply the guy who's passing along that gentle reminder from Nature that we have this great source of inspiration that really works! Rejoice in the fact that nature offers an endless variety of beauty, abundance, and challenge- and that it's all there, free for us to interpret it as we like. We simply need to accept that it's not all perfect "rule of thirds" or perfect plant groupings, highly geometrically conformative rock layouts and wood orientations.

Some of us just happen to like things bit more "natural" than others...

Blur the lines.

Continue to take pride in what you do.

Don't let dogma and the prevailing mindset of  "what's cool" distract you from doing what you love and believe in. Embrace, enjoy, and accept the thoughts, attitudes, and works of others, while constantly questioning and striving to do what moves you.

Find what makes your heart sing, and do it. You'll never be "wrong."

Meet Nature where it is: The delta of the intersection of science and art.


Stay excited. Stay bold. Stay inspired. Stay humble. Stay fascinated.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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