Unfiltered Nature.


Ohh! A Monday rant- filled with potentially divisive opinions and controversy? Don't say I didn't warn ya'!

Let's get to it.

Nature is a very random place.

Sure, it has a certain "order" all its own, but for the most part, Nature creates her own patterns, designs...conforms to no "aesthetic" but that which arises out of her very existence. Nature is filled with purpose, intent, and the results of tortuous environmental processes stretched out of eons. The result is beauty that humans can only admire and hope to recreate on some level.

We seek order in an otherwise disorderly, decidedly "dirty" place. When we try to interpret Nature's "design", we tend to overthink it. Many of us  tend to observe and distill and edit elements that appeal to our aesthetic sensibilities, as opposed to study and attempt to understand just what it was that makes a certain scene look the way it does, and to replicate Nature as it really is- raw and unfiltered.

And there's that strange hobby "malapropism" that has pervaded the aquascaping world, in my opinion. A way that we interpret things that is a bit, well- odd to me:

Looking at a mountain or a forested canyon and using that for inspiration for an aquascape is not exactly what we think of when we talk about a "natural aquarium." No, in our opinion, the term "natural aquarium" refers to a system which attempts to replicate aspects of the aquatic environment as it exists in Nature.  It's not about scaling down a mountain range in Yunnan province in China or wherever, covering some rocks with moss, and calling your work a "natural aquarium."

Yet, this seems to be proferred as such in many parts of the hobby. And it's a damn shame, IMHO. At the very least, it's a very inappropriate use of the term that might be confusing to some.

Opinionated much, Fellman? Absolutely. Hung up on semantics? Maybe. Overly harsh? Perhaps. Think your opinion is accurate and important? Hell, yes.

Words matter. 

Let me clarify my opinion:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with interpreting and utilizing inspiration from Nature however you choose in your aquascaping work.  Nothing. The results of a "diorama" style can be beautiful. However, the problem comes when we endeavor to communicate to the uninitiated that this type of aquarium is "based on Nature" -as if a carefully-contrived "diorama mountain range" comprised of Glostostigma-covered rocks is what a natural aquatic habitat looks like.

That is where it gets a bit weird, IMHO.

What was ever not good about looking at a stream, flooded forest, pond, or bog, and attempting to replicate it accurately as it is-both in form and function- in our aquarium? To replicate it without overly stylizing and "ratio-ing-out" every rock, every twig, every plant? What is it about the actual appearance of so many aquatic ecosystems that has the bulk of the aquascaping world somehow avoiding replicating them?

Is scaling down a mountain, or creating a "sanitized" version of some elements of a genuine aquatic habitat the best we can do? Is creating an aquarium based on Nature as it actually is just not "good enough" as an art form for us?

Is it because it doesn't "measure up" somehow to the "fantasy forest scape" that the guy did in that last big contest, in terms of perceived  effort,"creativity" or "interpretation?" Is it because that in Nature, the water isn't always crystal-clear, blue/white? Is it because the bottom of many natural aquatic habitats are covered in decomposing leaf litter, tree parts, and twigs? Because it's not clean and neat and tidy and "Iwagumi-friendly?" Yeah, It's often dark, disorderly...unpredictible.

Can we not handle that?

Or is it something even weirder than that?

Could it be that many aquascapers are hesitant to replicate "unfiltered Nature" because it's not "designed enough?" Because it's "already been done" (by, like, oh, I don't know-the freakin' UNIVERSE!), and therefore not "original" is some strange manner?" Because somehow, something in our minds tells us that we have to "one up" Nature, as it doesn't "measure up" to our aesthetic goals and interpretations?

To me, it seems like many 'scapers seem to feel that Nature is somehow "flawed" because it doesn't conform to what WE feel a "natural" aquatic scene should look like. Somehow, "Iwagumi" rock arrangements are embraced as "Nature", and Nature itself takes the proverbial back seat.

If you really think about this, it's not hard to arrive at such conclusions. When was the last time an aquarium which looked a lot like a real natural aquatic habitat won one of those big contests?

Yet we think nothing of scaling down a whole mountain range and calling the resulting aquarium "Nature"...That's not a bit odd for an aquarium? Nothing weird there, right?

Have we gotten too full of ourselves? Or are those natural aquatic habitats simply too "artistically flawed" for us to incorporate in our aquariums?


There are no "flaws" in Nature's work, because Nature doesn't seek to satisfy observers. It seeks to evolve and change and grow. It looks the way it does because it's the sum total of the processes which occur to foster life and evolution.

We as hobbyists need to evolve and change and grow, ourselves.

We need to let go of our long-held beliefs about what truly is considered "beautiful." We need to study and understand the elegant way Nature does things- and just why natural aquatic habitats look the way they do.  To look at things in context.  To understand what kinds of outside influences, pressures, and threats these habitats face.

To understand why the fishes which reside in them live in specific niches...

Perhaps, with this understanding and appreciation for Nature as it really is finally in hand, we can move further forward... And truly blur the lines between Nature and aquarium.  For the benefit of all.

We believe that people are wildly curious about the natural world, yet people also tend to over complicate the unknown, and polish out the beauty of Nature. There are no rules to rediscovering the unfiltered art beneath the surface. We believe in the preservation of the "patina" of biocover found on submerged surfaces, and in fostering the appreciation of the ephemeral components of Nature- leaves, wood, and botanicals...

We play at the "delta" at the intersection of Nature and art. 

We celebrate aquariums modeled after Nature as it really is, in form and function: Filled with randomness, intricacy- perhaps even a bit of mystery. A special character that only an aquarium which replicates Nature in this manner can fully achieve.

Perhaps we can give it some more consideration? Maybe we can look at a few pics of a wild aquatic habitat as a possible influence for our next aquarium? Am I too blasphemous here?  I don't think so. Read some early Takashi Amano writings and see if you agree. Don't read the "cargo cult"-style fanboy homage drivel that's everywhere now. Go to the actual source.  Google it. Find his older works and READ his words. 

Perhaps it's time for us all to "double down" on Nature as it is. Again.

Yeah. It is.

There is beauty there. Unimagined intricacies and details and wonders...all of which can be incorporated into an aquatic display...If we accept Nature as it is.

Are you a bit wound up today, Fellman? Yeah, I think I am. 

Until next time...

Stay original. Stay bold. Stay unbounded. Stay creative. Stay observant. Stay appreciative...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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