The inner game of aquascaping...listening to your own voice.

"Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it." - Andy Warhol

I will admit something here:

I've got the affliction that almost every aquascaper  on the planet seems to have.

I think I'm a lousy aquascaper. Don't get me wrong. I can "turn 'em out"...occasionally. I might hit on a few points I wanted...but historically, I'm my own worst enemy. 

I like to look at aquascapes. Love to play with them. Love to talk about the concepts behind them...but I feel that I'm just not that good at executing them. I stand in awe of guys like George Farmer, Oliver Knott, Johnny Ciotti, Jeff Senske, Luis Navarro...these people have serious "game"- and this ability to adapt the idea that they have floating around in their head at the moment into reality, as well as the seemingly otherworldly ability to "see" the completed scape as they work.

You ask some of these guys, they'll literally tell you that the components they're using-the rock, the wood, the plants- sort of "talk to them.." And they listen. They have that ability to visualize and execute where something should go; how it should be placed- and how much of it-because they evaluate just what kind of "contribution" a certain element will make to the overall design. They don't fight it. They listen.

And they'll tell you that we ALL can do this. We all have the ability.

Oh, sure, some people have a background in design and art. They understand ratios and such...but they almost never tell you that these things are the main reason they are good at what they do. Rather, they'll tell you it's because they developed an innate understanding of the process, and the ability to heed an inner voice.

These guys- like all aquascapers- you and I included- are really deep. Very philosophical. You can have awesome discussions with them. The main difference between "them" and "us" is that these guys listen really intently to that inner voice and don't fight it off...

We ALL have this ability. We just need to overcome a few tendencies, in my opinion. We all have greatness within ourselves. 

(Takashi Amano, perhaps the greatest of all, understood the value of belief, harmony, and awe when creating aquascapes.)

Over the years, I've learned a few things about the mindset of the majority of aquascapers, which seem to come up all the time:

*We are typically our own worst critics

*We tend to place too much value in what other people think of our efforts.    

*We're almost never "finished" with a scape. We keep going when it's done.

*Our work is almost always better than we think it is.

Honestly, I think I'm spot on with these points. Don't believe me? Check out almost any forum where someone is showing off their latest work. It's almost guaranteed you'll see the creator say stuff like, "I know it needs some work, but..." or "Please be gentle, it's my first effort..." or "I just can't seem to get my rocks arranged as good as ________ can...

Oh sure, once in a while, you'll actually see a comment like, "Im pretty happy with this one. I think I nailed it."

Yet, in the aquascaping world, that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. We're too damn self-critical; too damn modest. Not everyone, of course, but many of us. And look, I'm not espousing that you go on Facebook with a pic of your tank and proclaim to the world that you're the second coming of Takashi Amano...Arrogance is never fashionable. What I am espousing is that you take a second to realize that you're pretty damn good at this stuff. Really damn good.

Believe it or not- and I think that my "A List" aquascaping friends will vouch for me here-  every single aquascape that is put out to the world has amazing merits that inspire everyone. Really. Ask your local aquascaping superstar. They'll tell you that they can glean something from every single scape they look at...Wether it's a brilliant placement of a rock, a use of color or texture that they simply hadn't seen before, or even- just occasionally- a reinforcement of why they don't want to do something a certain way.

(Luis Navarro- adapting, studying, improvising...creating)

Yeah. Nothing is ever wasted when you share i the aquascaping world. A tank can always serve as an example of what NOT to do for someone. And gain...notice I said for "someone." Because every 'scape has it's merits, and should satisfy the one person who really counts- its creator. 

(George Farmer has a deep respect for nature, design, and listening to his own voice. And it shows in everything he does...)

And, I think I've been able to zero in on what I feel is the most important thing to learn about aquascaping:

Did you see my point about not being "finished" with our 'scapes? It's a tough one to overcome. I have this problem...I always need to place one more rock, one more iteration of the finishing piece of last plant. It's hard to stop sometimes.I have to battle myself.  I think part of this is the fact that all of those cool scapes that we see online in pics from aquascaping competitions are "evolved" or "finished" products, in which man started and nature took over.

Yet we don't see that from the pics. We see this finished product and think to ourselves, "Keep going."

Sometimes, it's best to tell ourselves, "Walk away."

I know that my best aquascapes have always come from a place of being "done"- whether or not the scape could have used one more piece is not the point. The point is to put yourself in the state of mind that says, "Okay- let it breathe a bit. Bring life to it as it is, and see how it goes." Rather than the more common, "If I just tweak the direction of this stone a little bit to the left..."

Restraint, like effort- is important. Yet often overlooked in our quest to seek perfection. Noble, but actually a form of self-sabotage, IMHO.

We need to learn to walk away. To know when to say "when."

The realization that the very best aquascapes are ones that start with a solid "foundation" of a good design, but require time, growth, an other natural processes to allow them to reach their full potential. Nature has been doing this for billions of years. Our intervention might be appreciated, but it's seldom "necessary" when it comes to aquascaping. The botanical systems that I love so much are the absolute embodiment of soon as we finish, nature takes the range and completes the job. 

(Johnny Ciotti. Heading his inner voice.)

Stuck? Thinking you need one more rock? Walk away for a bit; let nature have at it. She'll do what's right, just as surely as the sun rises or the tide returns. When you work with nature instead of trying to circumvent it, the results are never quite as good.

Learn this. Embrace this. 

I think you'll be a happier, more fulfilled aquascaper as a result. Call it "wabi sabi", "evolution", or "transience"- whatever. But embrace it. 

And savor your work. The experience. The process. The satisfaction. 

You've got this.

Stay hungry. Stay open minded. Stay strong.

And stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics





Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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