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Aquascape of the Month August 2010: "Beyond the Nature"

Discussion in 'Aquascape of the Month (AOTM)' started by John N., Jul 30, 2010.

  1. John N.

    John N. Administrator Staff Member

    August 2010 Aquascape of the Month
    Beyond the Nature
    by Gary Wu



    [float_left][​IMG][/float_left]My name is Gary Wu, I am project manager for a worldwide content developer. I started my aquatic experience when I was a teenager. I began a small tank with seven baby Koi selected while spending a whole morning in a fish shop. During that time, I enjoyed feeding them, and after a year, they all grew up and have to change their tank to a bigger size. However, due to lack of resources to buy a good filtering system, the water conditions turn bad and all the Koi passed away within a year. I left the hobby until I graduated.

    When I returned to the hobby, I choose goldfish. During that time, I used an aquarium plant decorated background to decorate my tank there was a limited selection of aquarium plants at my local fish shop. After two years, my goldfish all died. After that, I decide to provide my future fish with a better living environment. Since goldfish and Koi would require bigger tank or even pond for them to have better living area, I decided to give up keeping these fish until I moved into my new house, ten years later.

    In the mean time, I planned my 150L planted tank. Fortunately for me, during that time, the internet was gaining popularity and it was easier to find useful information to create the ideal aquarium environment. I find there are number of beautiful aquascapes on the web, and graphic design knowledge I knew I could managed to mimic and create a similar planted aquarium layout.

    Through internet forums, I met Wayne Sham, Eric Cheng and Harry Kwong, who are all brilliant aquascapers and highly successful in aquascaping competitions. We gather every week to discuss aquascaping techniques and to share our planted aquarium pictures, plants, and occasionally to celebrate with more hobbyists when there is a good contest result.

    Over the years, we have become great friends and developed the foundation of Creative Aquascape Union website. There is a good competitive atmosphere between us. When we see each other with a great aquascape layout, we would push ourselves to make an even better one.
    My personal aquascaping style is a little different than most, but still familiar. When I start aqua-planting, most are gardening type with red and green. I find that Amano Nature Aquarium style to be more relaxed and elegant, so I start observing the nature scenery to see if there was something I can replicate on my own layouts and over time that happened to become the mainstream of aquascaping styles.

    Inspiration of the Floating Island

    This layout is an idea from a Japanese cartoon movie “Laputa”. The story describes a future beyond our age, in a time where people rely on technology but the whole civil, technology and natural world are collapsed. A few hundred years passes with nature recovered but people are still struggling living in a new environment on a floating island. There are traces of civil and technological items but no one knows where it came from and how to use it. The floating island is a very high-tech castle centered around a big tree. There is a robot at the castle that acts as a sentry to protect the nature environment contained within the castle. I found this to be a very interesting topic, something similar to the hottest motion picture movie “Avatar”.
    [float_right][​IMG][/float_right]I do not know whether its director drew inspiration from Mr. Hayao Miyazaki’s movie and cartoon series since this cartoon first launch in 1986, but there is a strong view of environmental concern.

    The title of this aquascape is “Beyond the Nature”. It was selected to describe the same theme as “Laputa” with something that we don’t know and we cannot control but with inherently very close to nature’s touch.
    While the floating island is not easy present in this layout, I did use a visual illusion to mount a grid on the back glass so as the plant grows out, the whole grid is masked by the plant. It is like the castle is masked by the tree in the movie.

    Bringing an Idea to Life

    I usually start my layout without a concrete arrangement, beginning with theme or visual idea, like my “Waterfall”, and “Glacier Valley” aquascapes. I started with my selected them and began a search for a reference photo. Usually I will draw stretches after referencing to a number of photos, but it is not the planting plan; it is simply a draft of the potential landscape. Once the layout is confirmed, I will map specific plants, rocks, wood to present each element contained in my final stretch.

    In this layout, the foreground presenting the top of a slope, and the background is the floating island in the sky. I made the foreground slightly curve from front to the back to replicate a fish eye effect through a lens. The middle of the backside foreground is covered with sand to present a far end, so all the proportions should be small. If I were to do it again, I would like to improve the mid-ground Blyxa japonica planting on the right. At first, I want to use some plant to balance the floating island, but that destroy the perspective and proportion of the layout.

    The floating island is based on the grid described earlier. The base is cover with a thin layer of substrate and small rocks with moss insert between them. Staurogyne sp. are planted on the thin layer of substrate. As this plant grew out, I have to adjust the grow rates of the specific plant sections since some grew faster and slower than other areas, especially on the bottom of the island. Fortunately, I had a backlighting setup on my tank, so I use the additional backlighting to help them grow. As the aquatic plants, the began to form a dense layout molded from my initial design.

    Trimming Techniques and Aquascaping Layout

    Surprisingly, this layout did without much trimming. There was overgrown moss on the floating island which needed cutting but nothing else. This is one of the easiest layouts I have created. Just water change and clear the water surface and it developed on its own.

    For other layouts, I typically cut the aquarium stem plants by one third, and then by two third on the new growth, and then after two to three more times of trimming, the stems would branch and bloom into a dense vegetation. However, there is one important factor about water flow. If you want the plant to be healthy, I recommend increasing your water flow and circulation. Without this, the blooming parts of the plant will be highly affect by the poor water circulation and prone to cause or be inflected with algae.

    In my plan, I did not refer to any familiar aquascaping layout scheme such as concave, diagonal lines, or the “Golden Rule of Thirds”. In my experience as a graphic designer, there are other, more important basic graphic design principles which can add more to the aquascape. For example, the combination of color would cause different feelings; the light/colorful atmosphere would dominate visual effect instead of physical shape. The balance in space and color can be transcends any shape. That is why I spend a lot of time on photography because if you can control the mood of your photo, some details are not that important.

    Since most of my designs are base on natural scenery the visual perspective is one of the most important elements to capture the sense of nature. Additionally, proportion size is another important factor. These two factors together would significantly affect the visual effect of a nature layout. I would suggest aquascapers should not only read aquascape books but also reference design books such as graphic design, photography or even fine art to create a comprehensive visual effect for their aquascapes.

    If you plan to plant a layout that requires frequently trimming, carefully consider your dosing cycle and placement of plants on soil and sand. For me, as I used Seachem Fluorite, which lacks nitrogen and prosperous elements in the substrate.
    As such, I supplemented with root fertilizer. As I mentioned before, you have to reduce dosing the liquid fertilizer after trim. In fact, I would suggest skipping the fertilizing after a heavy trim because plants are injured after the trim. Just like a human being, during the recover stage there needs to be time to rest. If you don’t adjust your dosing plan, the fertilizer dosed is not consumed by the aquarium plants and thus would potential cause algae to effect the withering/recovering plant.

    For crypts and some other difficult plant, I don’t have much experience of planting them. Crypts are rarely use in my layouts. However to be successful, it is important to understand the requirements of the plant. If you don’t know they require low temperature or low pH and plant them it an opposite environment, the plant will likely die.

    [float_right][​IMG] [/float_right]
    Many difficult plants seem to have a longer adaption and adjustment period to a new environment. Plants have a wide range of adaptable conditions. You have to patience, because they could take longer to adapt to new environment. Observe their roots, leaf colors, and shape, as you can automatically know you may require more root or liquid fertilizer. Once a difficult plant adapts, they will grow well provided that you can keep the water parameter in good, stable conditions.

    To maintain uniform plant growth it takes observation. You have to notice your plants grow rates, and observe the changes from the trim to re-growth. From there you will know when to trim and when to push. There is no universal time table to tell you. Plants have life, not like a robot or machine, so they would react differently. If you cannot observe and understand their reaction, you are not a good aquascaper or even not a good planter.


    For this layout, maintaining is not an issue as I mention before, only water change and clean glass surfaces. The real challenge is psychologically and social acceptance of your layout.

    Although you may think a layout is “fresh” and “creative”, some peers would agree with you, while others will not. It’s a difficult reality, especially when entering into aquascaping contest. Sometimes judgers taste and preference have to be consider to rank high in a competition. However, when it comes down to it, I create the layout as I want, as it is mainly for me.


    I don’t think I am a good representative for people to follow my work, it is too exceptional. I don't mean that to be conceded but to imply one needs the learn and master the basics.

    Those fresh to the aquascaping hobby should try a traditional aquascape first. Once you develop your own experience and learn how to grow aquarium plants, they could explore from others and develop their own.

    I do suggest people participate more in aquascaping contests to as they allow you to continue in the planted aquarium hobby and push you further in terms of creating aquascaping designs. A lot of new comers start aquascaping without basic planting technique and as a result their plants die and they give up. Some only enjoy planting without concern of the layout.

    In both cases, there are number of new aquascapers who start losing their motivation or they have no time to maintain a proper layout or planted aquarium. So in reality, only a small portion of aqua-planters will become success aquascapers.

    Aquascaping is not like arranging flowers, where you trim the stem and flower to a desire size and arrange it and that’s it. Aquascaping is more like gardening; merged with nature to provide a healthy living environment for the fish, plant, and other inhabitants. Aquascaping is a living art, and transcends styles be it Nature Aquarium or Dutch style, creative or traditional. It also requires the aquascaper to spend a lot of time to take care their baby.

    As one of the key members of Creative Aquascaping Union, we like to use our layouts to influence more people to join this activity. I sincerely hope people enjoy my "Beyond the Nature" layout, but have more importantly become inspired to participate in this hobby and learn to enjoy our natural environment.


    Attached Files:

    Jack, Glomeridae, keithgh and 2 others like this.
  2. What a stroke of genius in originality. Uniquely impressive, I declare.
  3. Jurijs mit JS

    Jurijs mit JS Admin Staff Member

    Great work :proud:
    But still didn´t understand hwo the Island is mounted to the glas.
    I hope you read this and can explain me how you have mounted the island to the glass.
  4. Shadow

    Shadow Moderator Staff Member

    sucktion cup to the glass. Great scape by the way. It is out of this world. It remindme of Anime movie call laputa
  5. GeorgJ

    GeorgJ Team Flowgrow

    Cologne Germany
    Hi Gary,

    interesting idea and great realisation. It's a wonderful scape and they're fantastic photos - i like it very much and i enjoyed reading your texts.
    keithgh likes this.
  6. Apache

    Apache New Member

    Thanks a lot for this really good interview!
    keithgh likes this.
  7. Misant

    Misant New Member

    Portland, Oregon
    I love this one too but did I miss the part where the suspension/platform/framework of the island was detailed?

    This would be awesome to recreate in some way. Maybe like the floating islands in Avatar. :D
    keithgh likes this.
  8. gregosaurus

    gregosaurus New Member

    Brighton, England
    as a massive studio ghibli fan i find this to be the definition of awesome
    keithgh likes this.
  9. Peanut8787

    Peanut8787 New Member

    A very well masterworkpiece. I believe it gives alot of people very good inspiration.
    keithgh likes this.
  10. Speechless...!!!!!
    Some Extra details about the making of the 'Suspended Island' would be more helpful though!!
    keithgh and chance caspary like this.
  11. Beagle

    Beagle Aspiring Aquascaper

    This is absolutely astounding!!! Love it! (y)
    keithgh and John N. like this.
  12. chance caspary

    chance caspary New Member

    If anyone knows how exactly I could make the actul island, like using stryafoam or corkbark, etc that would be awesome! I don't quite get how i would be able to make it out of styrafoam and have the mound of substrate on without getting to heavy or blowing away?
    keithgh likes this.
  13. ShadowMac

    ShadowMac Moderator Staff Member

    the scaffolding for the island is attached to the rear panel of the aquarium. My thoughts: you could construct something that attaches with suction cups, however keeping it level would be a challenge. Since the island is mostly moss it would not need to have much in terms of substrate or other heavy parts. I don't think you want something that will float, but also nothing heavy.
    Jack, greenfinger 2 and keithgh like this.
  14. keithgh

    keithgh Moderator Staff Member


    Jack and greenfinger 2 like this.

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