Tint nuveau.

Inside the mindset of a restless aquarist...

One of the things I like best in our hobby is changing stuff.

Yeah. changing stuff. Well, not just "stuff", but minds, minutes, ways of looking at things, and just everyday practices, thoughts, and ideas. Now, I'm not talking about just changing stuff "because", I'm talking about changing stuff because doing it the same way for the last 50 years is- at least to me- hardly stimulating...

When you're the guy who's at least partially responsible for helping to inspire your community, it's kind of good to have this trait! In my opinion, it's practically mandatory that I shake stuff up once in a while by showing you some new looks; new ideas. Sure, I'm a hobbyist, but I'm also an evangelist of sorts. Someone jokingly called me the "Pied Piper of pods", and I suppose it's not all that fall from the truth! It's nice to lead by example..to not just talk about ideas, but to execute on them! 

So...I looked at our office tank last week and thought to myself, "Okay, this thing has been up and running for almost 2 years-it's been the  visual inspiration for a number of our customers to try the blackwater/botanical approach, and the community has taken this and ran with it. Mission accomplished on this one. Time to iterate again!" 

(Literally, that's what ran through my head!)

Its kind of cool, actually, to be an "editor" of aquariums. Because I know now exactly how to do this tank again. And I told myself I don't want Tannin to be one of those aquatic companies who rests on its laurels based on one public-facing tank and pushes some agenda on the world. Nope. Amano had it right: You have to keep evolving, keep changing things; refining and trying new stuff; new looks. And with a growing, global community of "tinters" taking the ball and running with it, we've got a lot of amazing inspiration happening every day! In fact, YOU inspire ME with all of your amazing efforts, so I just HAD to try something else! Besides, in my house there are multiple aquariums (LOL). And as you'll see soon, there's that whole "brackish tank thing" going on in the background...

So...here we are.

Out went the leaves. Out went the Manzanita.

Empty tank. Nebulous plans... Tint nuveau.

Exciting. Undecided. Uncertain. Sort of my personal "comfort space." I have this thing about running without a fully formulated aquarium approach. I don't recommend it. It's a bit scary. I mean, you ditch a perfectly good, well-regarded aquarium setup that has sort of helped define your company since its public inception, and now you have this...empty tank...with some rough, yet incomplete ideas.

Yeah, I LOVE this.

Real aquascapers would tell me to my face that I'm making things much harder on myself than I need to by not having a well-thought-out plan to run with. The other downside is that I've broken down a long-term, stable-functioning leaf litter microcosm to do...what? I suppose one could say that we've lost some valuable potential data on the long-term function of a leaf litter tank. And it might be true, but there are many of you doing this now. Besides, my longest previous leaf litter-based habitat aquarium ran for four years without a single hitch. Yeah, it's time to try something new. 

Perhaps it's a bit unsettling.

And that's okay. I'm doing this sort of as an exercise for myself, although with it's public component, it will definitely have to deliver on the "inspiration" side over time. Yet again, I'm doing this more for the fun of just doing something new, satisfying an "itch"- than I am for purposely trying to do something that will be attempting to set some sort of "style" or inspirational standard.

It's just fun to do this. And fun is the key. And we'll document the process again.

So, what components will be involved in this seat-of-the-pants evolution?

Let's start at the bottom...

Well, we definitely are using sand. I went back and forth about trying some new substrates, but I decided upon sand once again. My trusty Carib-Sea "Torpedo Beach" white sand. I love the stuff. It has a particle size ranging from 0.5mm-2.0mm, and nicely replicates some of the substrates we've seen in various tropical riverine habitats. Plus, the lighter color adds a sort of "contrast" to the darker wood leaves and botanicals that I favor. 

Oh, and wood. I decided that this time, I'm going to use Mopani. I've loved this wood forever, even though it seems to have largely fallen out of favor in the aquascaping world as newer, "sexier" types of wood emerge. There is something I find incredibly appealing about it. I think it's the gnarled texture and contrasting grain colors. And it has a crap-load of tint-producing tannins "on board", so it's sort of a constant "touch up" of tint as long as it's in the tank.

And I wanted a wood layout that is really simple, open, NOT vertically-oriented. I wanted something that is just a few inches off of the bottom, more concerned with width than height, and a lot of sort of "craggy" spaces underneath for water to move in and fishes to swim, forage, and potentially spawn under. Lots and lots of vertical space in the water column for schooling fishes. 

This is the first iteration at "twilight."

Super simple. Hardly elegant or "high concept." But exactly what I was looking to do: Represent those kind of aggregations of drift wood that fall into streams and sort of settle o the bottom, almost serving as a little "reef" of sort for bottom-and-mid-water-dwelling fishes. 

Just a few small stones. 

I've been sort of just staring at it for a while, taking in the "vibe" of the wood as it's oriented in the tank, visualizing how the fishes will respond to it. And that's okay. I play a "long game." I'm in no rush, and with a very full slate of Tannin-related projects over the next few months, this plays nicely into my strategy of "restless patience" quite well. I can  make gradually adjustments and just absorb them.

And the botanicals? Of course!  However, I'm going to try a lower "diversity" in this 'scape", to still keep a sort of "open" feel to the whole thing.

We're going to use "Savu Pods" for "anchor pieces", and  maybe, just maybe, a few "Nano Jungle Pods" as well. They're really quite cool, and I've been itching to use them in a scape before.

And I'm pretty sure that I'm going to use the lovely, woody "Estalo Pods" as the "hard leaf" component of the display. They have a great texture, contrast, and color, and you don't need too many of them to create an interesting impact if well-placed. That "two-tone" thing they have going on plays well off of the Mopani, IMHO.

And I'm thinking of using the not-highlighted-enough "Rio Passaro" somewhere in the mix. They have a delicate look and color that is near perfect for setting off the strong wood and other botanicals....I've never used them in a wood-based setup before, so this could be fun! 

And of course, leaves. Always leaves.

Now, since this is not primarily a leaf-litter habitat setup, aesthetic-wise, I need to keep the leaves more "managed" in terms of where  they will be. I'm thinking of "deploying them" under and around the "reef" a bit...not "full coverage" like I've done in the past, but rather, a good concentration of leaves that still takes advantage of the open space underneath the wood structure. It may or may not evolve over time. And what leaves will I use?

Magnolia, my new "bestie." And likely some Guava leaves as well.

And then, the great debate. Will I incorporate some palm fronds in this one?  Hmm... I've played with them for a long time as supplemental pieces in breeding tanks and such, but never used them as a major component of a 'scape before. Seeing the work that Tai Strietman, Rene Claus, and Mike Bognich have done with their tanks using palm fronds has the gears in my head turning 24/7, and this might be the display to play with them.

We'll see. And if I do attempt to use them, I promise to share the whole episode, no matter if I use them or not- or if the look comes out good or bad...


I have no idea.

And of course, the stars of the show will be the fishes!

What will I choose?

Well, the schooling fishes will be one of three completely common, "old-school" fishes:


The Glowlight Tetra! Yeah. Classic "old-school" characin...totally under-appreciated. Gets no respect. Perfect.

Can you imagine a school of like 30 or more of them?


Our old fave, the Neon Tetra. Although it's almost so cliche'd out as to be laughable, you generally don't see really big groups of them in "mid-sized" aquariums like mine. Could either be an "eye-sore" or an aesthetic triumph! I reserve the right to go for a "ginormous" school of the tiny "Green Neon Tetra", Paracheirondon simulans instead, for a serious overflow-weir-challenging (gulp) "anchor tenant" in this tank! The sense of scale would be epic (as would be the cost)!


Or, if I go rogue and abandon my "South American theme" for a bit, maybe, just maybe...

Nah. I can't get South America out of my head. I don't see this happening. That could lead to..Gouramis! And Badis, and Danios, and...ohh! Not this time. We'll get to that next...

My thinking can be a bit...bizarre, huh?

Other possible schooling fishes include the "Black Neon" or the Rummynose Tetra! Again, seemingly common, overused, almost 'cliche'd" fishes.


And what next?

Well, I wonder about the possibility of some "Darter Characins" down near the bottom. Like, a LOT of them! Scampering over the wood, the leaves, the pods. Could be very interesting. Of course, I need to source them in quantity first!

And of course, a cat of some sort. Do I bring back "Stick", my Farlowella vittata, who my friend has been "babysitting" for a while in her tank? Yeah, I think possibly, although we'll see how much algae this tank generates...

And for sure, my L134 "Leopard Frog" will be back from her "vacation" in my friend's tank, too. She's my sentimental fave! The star of the bottom, for sure!

And I'm almost certain to have Apistogramma. I think I know which one, and I think my friend William Garden is gonna have to get me some females...

Although, after seeing some of my friends playing with Checkerboard Cichlids, I'm tempted to do a group of them instead!  These little guys could be the perfect foil to the tiny tetras living upstairs!

So, lots of possibilities. But keeping it simple and not too diverse will be the key, I think.

One thing I do know. This tank will continue to be tinted. It will be dim. It will evolve. It will be biologically rich, yet not too diverse in variety. Hardly "restrained", but definitely a bit "tighter" than previous botanical-style/blackwater tanks I've played with in the past.


Whatever the iteration, whatever the final product evolves into, you can be sure that I'll always be looking over the next hill...guess it's my lot in life.

And it aint all that bad, actually. I like it.

And to you?

Don't stay static. Stay bold. Stay creative. Stay adventurous.

And always...

Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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