Thinking inside the box, and other aquascaping problems. A personal journey.

Do you ever come to the realization that there are some things that you tackle in the hobby that, for whatever reason- you're just not good at? Really, those moments of brutal honesty when you tell yourself, "This just isn't my 'thing', even though I'm attacking it...."

That's me with certain aspects of aquascaping. For some reason, there are some tanks that I just cannot wrap my head around. It's weird.

So, I have this really nice cube-shaped aquarium in my office that I've been playing with for a couple of months now, trying to figure out what to do with it. Unlike most of my other aquariums, which are set up to represent specific habitats, this one is intended to be a purely fanciful creative exercise using botanicals.

Should be easy, right? Except there's one small problem:

I simply can't scape small, cube-shaped tanks.

I just can't. Or, I can't do it in a way that leaves me satisfied...

Like, every attempt I've tried in this tank looks so forced. So contrived.. It's weird. I can't get past it. Something about this configuration and size that I can't hang with...

Long, low tanks? Check. Standard rectangular tanks? Got it. Even large cube tanks make some sense to me. Even Cylinder-shaped tanks. Yeah. I've done them.

Little, "nano-sized" cubes?


No chance.

It's like I have some sort of "mental block" or something...I just can't seem to work with these dimensions. And it seems so strange, because the cube shape, in and of itself, lets you approach things from a few angles- literally.

It seems like an easy choice for scaling, right?

I mean, you can do the obvious- some big pieces of wood crossing over and exiting he water. We see that all over Instagram, and well- yawn.

You could pack it with plants, and create a proportioned "jungle", with the tallest ones in the center rear.


(Add that to the fact that planted aquariums are as interesting to me as studying the art of shoelace tying, and it makes sense...) They are pretty, though.

You could do a little vertical-relief "shoreline" thing- and fairly effectively, I might add. But to do it in a way that doesn't look so crammed-in and overly-composed, it's like you really have to work it, carefully selecting every single piece of wood, rock, etc., and making sure you're careful during assembly, lest a clumsy hand send your almost-completed work tumbling back down to the starting point again.

This can't be that difficult. Literally, a child could do it, right? And do it well.

It's me. 

Like, a reef tank or coral tank in this space would be stupidly easy to pull off for me. Like, I think I could take on almost any big-time freshwater aquascaper in the world and leave them crying. Take your Iwagumi and Glostostigma and... okay, yeah.  I'm that confident of that. Arrogant, even! I can make it work in almost any tank configuration. Seriously.  But a convincing FW scape? No chance. A huge challenge. If I had to do this in a contest setting, I'd get smoked in minutes by everyone. I suck.

Why is this? What's my "hangup" about it?

Now, maybe it's that I've gotten so far into the weeds that I simply can't do a purely "artistic" type of aquascape anymore? Could it be that I'm too reliant on looking at natural scenes and attempting to capture the scene or habitat in the space I have, that any "freeform" interpretive exercise somehow doesn't feel "right" to me?

It might be. 

Talk about overthinking something, right?

It might be indicative of some kind of deeper "aquascaping problem", right? LOL

Yeah, I think it might be. I mean, if you unleashed the tank and same materials on almost any aquarist, especially a hardcore scape- they'd come up with a dream scape that would blow you away in no time.

But here's the thing. Despite me spending hours and hours playing with this stupid little box- none of them were frustrating- Not in the "wring your wrists, pace-back-and-forth" way! Nope. In fact, I've enjoyed every minute! So, that's a huge thing! It's the goal of a hobby, right? Oddly relaxing and enjoyable. 

It's just what I come up with, when I'm out of the initial creative high

Yeah. That's the thing.

This is where I stopped last time...It's just, well... urghhh... Maybe I should "just fill the damn thing", as one of my buddies suggested.

Probably couldn't hurt, right? See it wet. Give it a chance to age and evolve a bit...

So perhaps that's the solution. And the problem?

I just didn't happen to like the outcomes I've been achieving when I went for purely "creative" aquascapes. It's an interesting statement about mindset. And reading into thing too much...and taking shit too seriously! That's the easy "Facebook comment" takeaway: "You're taking this way too seriously- it's supposed to be fun!"

A real "champagne problem", right? I mean, there are 100,000 other things in life more worth thinking about. But hey, this is where I am at the moment. 

A chance for more self-awareness, right?

And the solution? Keep doing. Keep enjoying...Keep thinking inside the box- and not overthinking.  Maybe this documenting my personal "mental minefield" is helpful to you?

But, man, if I can just move that one piece of rock...

Until next time.

Stay creative. Stay unflappable. Stay diligent. Stay relaxed. Stay in the moment...

And Stay Wet. 


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 





Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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