The Art of Aquascaping

The Art of Aquascaping by Noah Nafarrete
Published in The Q1 Issue of AHM Magazine

A couple months ago, I was arranging hand-selected pieces of wood and rock inside a low-mineral, sleek and rimless glass aquarium. Once I was satisfied with the composition, I embellished the design with live aquatic plants to resemble a slice of the Amazon rainforest.

About eight hours later, I anxiously filled the aquarium with crystal-clear water. This project has been in the making for about a month, beginning with a concept sketch, then a selection of hardscape materials and plants.

This is the long, yet exciting, process of aquascaping. Aquascaping is a relatively new artform. It is the art of putting together hardscape and aquatic plants in an aesthetically-appealing way, while still providing the most optimal conditions for fish and aquatic invertebrates. A style of aquascaping is to replicate sceneries found in nature, which is why I aimed for my aquascape to resemble the Amazon rainforest.

I discovered aquascaping back in 2015, when I stopped by my local aquarium store. Fish have always been some of my favorite animals; I’ve always been fascinated by life underwater. It’s not a surprise that I wanted to set up my own aquarium, and I finally had the opportunity to do so. However, the idea of having plants in my aquarium never crossed my mind. I would have only went to grab some fish to dump into my cheap aquarium that was filled with plastic decorations. All this changed the moment I stepped into the shop, when a beautiful aquascape on display immediately caught my eye.

It was teeming with life, and it wasn’t just the fact that it contained a beautiful assortment of fish — the plants that composed the aquascape produced a wild painting full of color that grasped my eyes and wouldn’t let go.

From soft greens to striking reds, the fact that this living work of art was submerged under water completely blew my mind. One of the employees explained to me that the concept — which was relatively new at the time  was called ‘aquascaping,’ and it was pioneered by a man named Takashi Amano.

After a quick Google search, I viewed his works and I was blown away even further. Without a doubt, there was no way I was going to leave that store empty-handed. After coming back home that day with a bag full of plants, my journey of aquascaping began.

As with all artforms, creativity is very important. Creativity is the foundation of new ideas, and in art, innovation is important in creating something that’s different and personalized. With aquascaping, nothing differs. What’s interesting about aquascaping is that it utilizes a variety of compositional techniques found in photography, painting, and drawing. The infamous ‘rule-of-thirds,’ symmetry, and color contrast are a few of the many techniques derived from other artforms that aquascaping employs.

However, what distinguishes aquascaping from the rest is the physicality associated with it; aquascaping is mostly hands-on, and it’s an artform that’s continuously evolving because it’s  tending to an underwater garden.

Similar to a garden, weekly maintenance is required to maintain its pristine condition. Therefore, by constantly trimming plants and growing the aquarium into its mature stages, the aquascaper becomes attached to their work. What has originally started out as a mere project, has evolved into something so beautiful that the individual can only describe it as a work of art.  

By maintaining the work of art that the aquascaper has created, over time they will learn to care for the life that resides within the glass box, boosting their love for nature. For me, having a passion for many artforms ranging from photography to drawing to music, aquascaping remains unique from the rest because it has sparked an appreciation for nature that has been lost all my life.

Essentially, aquascaping is special in the way that it links creativity to the beauty of the nature around us. Aquascaping is mostly detail-oriented, and over time the aquascaper develops an eye for details. It is precisely this new perspective that aquascaping gives to people who were unaware of how beautiful nature can be.

Yes, people take photos of nature that are unmistakably beautiful; photos showcase the hidden beauty of nature all the time, almost to the point that it has become too cliché. Take the subreddit r/EarthPorn for example, where jaw-dropping photos are submitted continuously submitted. However, a photo is much too stagnant, and there is an element about experiencing something first-hand that is truly inspiring and capable of changing the way an individual sees the world.

When someone sees a beautiful aquascape for the first time, if it’s quiet enough, you’ll definitely be able to hear them audibly gasping in awe. A picture is one thing, but once you’re able to be immersed in the image, you’ll notice details that a picture simply cannot capture on a two-dimensional medium. This is how aquascaping is different than other art forms, in the way that it replicates the beauty of nature that is often overlooked.

However, the most important lesson that aquascaping has taught me about life is how to deal with stress. As a student, stress is inevitable. In life, stress is inevitable. However, aquascaping has taught me to think rationally in times of stress. After experiencing the calming nature of creating and looking at an aquascape first-hand, I realized that being in a state of relaxation is where I always want to be.

Allan Schwartz Ph. D. states that “owning and caring for an aquarium offers the chance to bring the calming effects of nature right into the home,” in his blog titled, Stress Reduction, Tropical Fish and Aquariums. Nature in itself is truly relaxing, so bringing nature with you into the household will bring also bring the relaxing qualities with it.

Houseplants also have the same effect. A study conducted by Texas A&M University concludes that “idea generation, creative performance and problem solving skills improved substantially in environments that include flowers and plants.” As a result, plants are natural stress-relievers.

Aquascaping has not only been a hobby for the past couple of years, but in many ways, aquascaping is now a lifestyle. What used to be merely sticks and stones in a glass box to me is now a piece of nature that I can use to escape from the stresses of life.

Above all, I’ve discovered a side of my creativity that I’ve never realized existed: creativity that is inspired by nature. Once I realized that nature is the basis of aquascaping, my perspective of nature changed dramatically. Being at one with an aquascape teaches us that life is all about finding balance by exploring the depths of intrinsic harmony and ‘natural creativity.’

Takashi Amano once said, “A layout that is crafted with overly great finesse is tiring to look at, and it is also difficult to maintain over a long period of time. It is important to provide an unpretentious, casual atmosphere of water and greenery. The very atmosphere creates the harmony between the surrounding space and the aquarium.”

**Noah is one of our aquascape consultants here at Aquascape Supply Co. & runs a series of aquascape workshops ranging from low-tech planted tanks to more intermediate scapes such as wabi-kusa styles**

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