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Musings about scaping

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Tom Barr, Feb 7, 2007.

  1. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    I have been reading some sites that discuss layouts and strange mystical garbage about odd numbered stones(eg 3-5-7 etc) and what not.

    Look at where really effect rock work is.
    Yes, no monkey hooda spiritual baloney here, just basic observations.
    Paths, bridges, walls, threshold stones and lines of flow and grain have much more meaning and use for an aquarist.

    I often view a hardscape with a practical use in mind.
    Rocks: shoring up a slope or gravel layer, making a path where I will not be tempted to plant more weeds. To maintain various species group integrity and divisions etc.
    In larger tanks, I've used rocks as a place to stand/sit or place my hand on while I work and garden, many species of fish inhabit some of the stones I use.
    I've very often used them to anchor driftwood.
    In simpler tanks, I've use rocks or wood as threshold stones.

    Amano uses sand like a path as well in many scapes, it has a very practical side as well, it's no work to trim or grow it!!

    Many are taken by the beauty or babbling about the art, think about the practical issues, go out and look at what is really in nature.

    Are there really only odd numbers in pretty stone placements in nature?
    Heck no! It's random.

    Are we really trying to replicate nature?
    No, invoke the feeling perhaps, but it is still gardening.
    Always use the same type of stones, from the same place/location etc.

    Do you like edged layouts? (popular with Dutch scaping) or do you prefer when the plants are pushing and creeping up over the rocks a little?

    These both have practical aspects associated with them.
    Gardening can be artistic etc but it's still a practical hobby on many levels, even art is practical, like it or not.

    One of the first articles I wrote was for scaping, cork aquascaping actually. I did not want to look at a glass wall in the back, so I added cork and added lots of ferns, and Anubias to it and made a wall of plants.

    While a nice technique and artistic touch, I did it more out the desire to hide things, not to add "artistic" elements. In the end it was a practical matter for me.

    Driftwood too, it is a neat hiding place for my fish and gives my plecos things to chew on. It also is a Java fern and Bolbitus "planter".

    Every day task of the aquascaping appears more to me to stop nature rather than advancing it. think about it: we prune, hack, trim, clean, add ferts, etc, these things do not occur in nature and our tanks would rapidly degrade if they really where "natural".

    There is no self regulation by any means.
    To speak of nature aquariums would imply that such tanks require little maintenace. While non CO2 systems are nice to this effect, they still need trimming and pruning and good care to also look good.

    We tend to reduce the larger impression of the natural scene in a scale that is more "aquaristic", more reducible to our scale. Thus reductionism and abstraction are your friends, use them to your advantage!

    The aquascape is there for you and your enjoyment, just like your house.
    Like practical matters, you clean the house so it looks nice and you keep out the bugs, mice and other vermin that would enter it, add electricity and so forth.

    I think one the goals of many "nature" aquarist is really to make a simplified version of nature awe in a confirmed aquarium space.

    My own impression seems that it never tries to copy directly from nature, rather it avoids the appearance of human intervention as though perfection and harmony have been achieved.

    I have never had much like for mini ceramics, concrete lanterns Buddas, dragons etc, I read recently a reasoning that I had trouble putting my finger on as to why I had this seemingly irrational feeling about them. It suggested that these where not designed for the human scale. A small space need not feel small. We this very often in tanks that look much larger than they really are. Such ceramics ignore that generally. It does not invoke that sense of nature of a well groomed tank with no appearances of human intervention.

    I see corney junk in folk's yards all the time, cheesy treasure chest and skeletons in tanks, what sets apart those from a planted scape? Do we see such items in fine examples of Japanese gardens? No.

    The other issue is using the best materials for scaping you can get.
    If you have this small 2x 4ft space, you may as well get the best rocks you can, or the best wood etc.

    Why spend 2000$ for a system and then go cheap on these items?
    I've seen many do just this.

    Take the time to add things to hide the overflows and the piping.
    While ADA takes these out just for photo's, this does not mean you have to do the same. Glass piping does not save you for long either, it gathers algae and needs cleaning as well. You may avoid this by adding cork bark, or building mounds of of wood/rock around these, or covering the pipe in various materials like needle point/cork etc and adding moss/ferns etc to these or Anubias.
    Think about ways to hide that stuff and reduce the clutter inside the tank.

    A well designed tank has no appearances of tubing inside the tank from all viewing angles. All you see is water flowing.

    That goes with the idea about appearing like it is natural and why I do not like man made obvious elements in the tank. Some folks just have to have those things, that's up to them. I have a hard time justifying it personally.

    Open top tanks also appear more natural as well, like you'd see looking into a planted stream full of weeds.

    These are just some ideas to mull and muse upon.:)

    regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  2. dekstr

    dekstr Junior Poster

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    I like this article.

    What you say is very true. We have to try very hard to imitate how nature looks in our aquariums. The irony is that we have to have to much "human intervention" in our tanks to make it appear as though we did not interfere with it.

    I am still trying to slowly remove/hide the tubing/wiring/plastic parts from my tank. This is actually one of the hardest parts! We have to consistently prune, dose, adjust, replant to make the aquarium look like we never touched it.

    Sometimes we try too hard. I often see many people online who like to push inane rules on "natural" aquascaping. "Odd numbered bunches of plants/rocks are better than even numbered bunches" "making the tank look assymetrical is better than a symmetrical tank". This is a downside to the hobby, I mean, there are no rules to how nature looks, it just looks the way it does only because we didn't interfere with it.

    So I guess my point is that we do our part to make the planted aquarium give off the illusion that nobody touched it, but then let the plants take care of the rest as they grow on their own. You kind of just do the "behind-the-scenes" work to give the impression that nobody actually bothered the plants in the tank.

    -Dexter
     
  3. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    The legitimate use of aquascaping "rules" is for those of us who know when we like the appearance of our aquarium, but don't know why it looks so good. The "rules" are guidelines that help explain why some aquascapes look so much better than others. I think once we get some experience with aquascaping our tanks we instinctively follow some of the "rules", and aren't even aware that we are doing so.

    Hiding equipment or keeping it out of the tank is a good goal, but at the stage I'm in with my skills, I prefer seeing equipment and having minimal algae problems, to not seeing equipment and having persistent algae problems. I think the day will come when that is no longer a driver for me. Then I will have the instincts to set up the tank so I can achieve both goals at once.

    I don't like ceramic divers and treasure chests in my aquarium - I left that stage behind about 40 years ago. But, I enjoyed that stage too.
     
  4. Anti-Pjerrot

    Anti-Pjerrot Prolific Poster

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    I dont think you need to go out and cast aside all "rules" like assymetry, odd numbers, rule of third, focalpoints and golden ratio.
    These are just usefull tools and guidelines to prevent obvious bad placements of hardscape and plants.
    For some of us, trained scapers, its pretty obvious that a totally straight line of similar plants, placed from one side of the tank to another, is not very attractive to look at, nor do it resemble anything from nature, except for the growth beside the pavement.

    Im doing a presentation on aquascaping this sunday, with an introduction to both the "theory", the practical and the philosophical sides of aquascaping.
    I keep in mind that aquascaping is what you want it to be. It can be very straight forward or you can complicate things by putting it into boxes and giving it names. Expirence is easy to get but hard to explain, so sometimes these boxes and names are a good use to explain what you do to others that only keeps fish in a tank.

    Nature is random. So using rules to comprehend random is a way for us to bring this "random" into our tank. If you has to explain what random is, its easier to say odd numbers, assymetri and rule of thirds than not giving an explanation.
     
  5. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    I'm not suggesting casting them aside, but they, like science, are easily misunderstood, misapplied and create many myths about gardening, whether it's in the aquarium, Japanese formals, European, wild hippy herb gardens etc.

    I think simply looking at what looks, appears best to you, and try it and see, but do not hold yourself to those rules with zealotry. If it looks good, it is good.
    Does not matter if it breaks every rule that many want to consider.

    Simply toying with plants, rocks, wood, outside equipment, plumbing, etc, until you acheve something that's aesthetic in your eyes is a good simple method to start.

    Some think like this:

    "I like plants, but I do not want too many so I can still see my fish!"

    So I came up with something like this:

    DSCN0258.jpg

    Most of the view is pure wood.
    Some plants along the bottom, and top back edge. Lots of swimming space.

    This design was my first scape I did in fully planted tank back in 1991. There's no odds, there's no focal point really, there's no golden ratio etc.

    I did not write up some gibberish about how I thought of a clear stream in spring as my inspiration. It's fine if that is your inspiration. I am not taking a thing away from that and someone else's process. Mine was something very different.

    I see enough spring streams with weeds growing in them, got the pictures and evidence also:) I'm happy folks love those places! Maybe I just see the stuff a lot more than most, and it seems strange to read the comments?
    Perhaps.........if you love them, go see them. I do.

    You cannot see any equipment in the tank, Lots of hiding places for the fish. Easy to care for and nice contrast between plants and wood. The wood does not block the light because it is a vertical wall. Good hiding for more cryptic fish etc.

    These where are practical considerations, not artistic ones.
    However, the tank impressed all that saw it.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  6. fjf888

    fjf888 Guru Class Expert

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    As someone who is relatively new to this. I find everything I draw and plan out looks like crap when I apply it. Its not really until I tinker for hours and hours over a period of time when I feel I get something that looks reasonable. Usually a month later I hate it again and try another layout. This causes some algae I have discovered:). The part that is hardest for me is creating depth and layering of the scape, blending the background middle and foreground.

    Yet I also wish there was more practical and useful information out there other then the 10 things to do and not do that I seem to see everywhere.

    I do really like your 1991 layout, although you say otherwise I see a focal point and the rule of 3rds in there :)
     
  7. dekstr

    dekstr Junior Poster

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    I'm not saying to just go w/o aquascaping guidelines and do whatever you please. I just don't like it when some people are very adamant and like to force these guidelines as the only path to a good looking tank.

    General principles are proven to work but that isn't grounds for excluding other possible things that might work!
     
  8. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Which is my point, there are trade offs with the scape vs the aesthetics and other components you might have.

    Some things are much more important than just what a photo opt can do for them..............Every ADA tank is doctored up good as is any competition tank that is in the upper rankings.

    I like ADA however, as they think outside the Glass box the aesthetics of the stand, equipment, lights etc, and it's relatively simple.

    I think they'd be better off selling drilled tanks with bulk heads, heck, if you sell the stands, may as well:rolleyes:

    But careful not to follow too many rules about all this.
    You can end up hindering your goals you started with.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  9. Anti-Pjerrot

    Anti-Pjerrot Prolific Poster

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    I think its just important to point out that aquascaping rules is just "guidelines". Something to be taken very lightly when making your tank. Meant to be broken and bended as one pleases.

    Tom - you scape is nice, and i too see focalpoints and rule of third...

    Maybe if you want to see it - its there. Like seing "rules" in nature...
     
  10. Sintei

    Sintei Lifetime Charter Member
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    Placement is random, making it pretty is rules.
     
  11. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    The article I wrote was based on a talk I had with a Japanese garden horticulture mag editor board. Western perception of these rules is much more the problem and a lot of the rules are not some mysterious Asian thing either, they are common sense when explained.

    Which is a long the lines I went here in this topic.
    Take a good look at the Japanese formal gardens.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  12. intricacy

    intricacy Junior Poster

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    even vs odd.

    Hey here's something to consider:

    I'm a professional designer working for one of the most reknown architects of our time, and have had many conversations about design "formulas" over the years. Most people I talk to will agree that "odd numbers" is preferable over even numbers. But ask people whether they are talking about positive or negative space, and you'll probably get a split sampling.

    Confused? Okay here's an architectural example: Is it preferable to have five columns and four spaces between them, or four columns and three spaces between them? Andrea Palladio, widely considered the most influential architect of classical Western culture, would tell you the latter, and lo and behold, count the number of columns in most classical roman and greek temples and you'll usually count even numbers of columns and odd number of "bays". Makes sense, when you think about it, since with an odd number of bays, there will be a central bay, which will probably be the front door.

    Contemporary aesthetics value asymmetry, and these days many times the "front door" will not be centered on the front facade. Thus, (and somewhat paradoxically) you will see expressions of odd columns with even numbers of spaces.

    Anyway, food for thought. I gotta get back to work on my 28-bay building with 29 rows of columns.
     
  13. Graham

    Graham Junior Poster

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    I agree. There aren't any rules, but certain layouts are certainly more visually appealing than others. For me, it's about look over any principle. If I'm getting close to the end of an aquascape and something doesn't adhere to the "principles", I'm not going to change it if I find it appealing. I've spent lots of time with Amano's picture books and plenty of his scapes don't strike me as adhering to any of these magic golden rules.

    In the end, people are not going to have the same preferences. It's fine to have guiding principles, but if it gets to the point where said principles constrain you, it becomes counterproductive. Personally, I'm a negative space guy. I feel it adds more to the positive space than any ratio or odd number ever could. Ironically, negative space is something I always struggle with maintaining throughout the creation of an aquascapes, too....
     
  14. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    I just worry folks get too far away from sitting down, looking at natural scenes, or seeing and trying what they like to their eye, not just reading some text that says you should do the golden triangle or some other rule.

    While many might agree on the aesthetics of a certain form, others will simply not care. I see some degree of rigid judging and aesthetics and rules being applied in the hobby.

    I'm not so sure it's a good thing either.

    What type of approach/es would help the hobby and further it?

    "Experience" if I had to pick one.
    So the focus IMO seems to be there.
    The easiest way to do that is to give them a tank and let them have at it.
    Ask them what is it they like and what they see?

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  15. DaveSurfer

    DaveSurfer Prolific Poster

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    A bit off topic, but hey, are those Lobelia cardinalis small form you have growing in the foreground? Can those be planted emersed when setting up a new tank? Thanks! :)
     
  16. DaveSurfer

    DaveSurfer Prolific Poster

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    Btw, I always see these amazing aquascapes on the ADA site, with NO pipes?? How is this done? Does one drill holes in the bottup of the tank and feed the pipes up just barely above the substrate and then hide them with foilage?

    thanks for any tips!
     
  17. Anti-Pjerrot

    Anti-Pjerrot Prolific Poster

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    They (we) remove all equipment before photographing
     
  18. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    The photographic part of planted tanks has come a very long way as well since the 1990's.

    What is 35mm film?
    Rare anyone uses that any more.

    As this part evolved, the part of photography that is art and what the pic is really like has blurred as well, a picture is not reality, it is art.

    Some think the pic means that is the tank, not, not always, seen some nice looking tanks but placed in the worst spot in the home, while I've seen some so so tanks
    well placed.

    Art Galleries are set up to highlight the art, as best as we can, doing to same for aquariums if scaping is the goal should also be considered along the same lines.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  19. behhl

    behhl Junior Poster

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    The issue of rigid blind following of rules is not only in aquascaping, but even say in gardening. Like the creation of japanese gardens many will tell that need this or that there with so many rocks so and so according The Rules. But is this true? Slawson himself a mightly fine garden creator says that the author of one of the books considered a classic in japanese gardening had this to say:

    "... author of Tsukiyama Teizoden (1828), the first "do-it-yourself" Japanese garden manual, cautioned against taking the rules he set down too seriously: "Though these are called rules, they are simply intended to show the general principles to which people should adhere. These laws are not fixed and immutable. A stone by such and such a name need not be placed here and another there unless desired. They are only suggestions to be developed appropriately. People fettered by formal ideas should realize this and strive to improve their art."
     
  20. Kolkri

    Kolkri Junior Poster

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    I don't go by any rules or guides. I have been messing around with my smaller tanks for the past three years.
    I just set up my first large low tech low light tank and I did not follow any rules or guides. Just did something I liked and did not look like a cookie cutter of the ones you usally see.
    This tank only has one piece of hard scape and I have no plans to add more.
    I feel I am well being good if a year from now the plants are healthy and fish are too.
     
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