I'm a complete novice so this is only my "artistic" opinion, which is identical to having an @-hole (we all have one and they all stink)
So, I prefer the semi-staged (not completely random) look. Where by positioning them close together but not too close you create varying dimension with positive and negative space.
Here is what I just created last week.
On the right is my attempt at an Iwagumi-ish scape. Despite knowing it could be better I'm quite happy with it.
So for your rocks, if they were mine, I would place them closer together in "mountainous" arrangement and then leave some negative space on one side or the other. Or build the mountain in the center and have negative space on either side. Just some thoughts! Have fun!!
Thanks, Matt. I really like your tank's small scale layout! Looks like an AGA competition tank! I am a neophyte myself and I profess no talent or skill in any of this... But there was a plan within a plan within a plan to the formations you see.
My tank is 4 feet long
. The two large stones are almost 25 pounds each. That's one reason for the depth of the substrate: to spread-out the stones' weight. The left side is composed using the "Golden Ratio" of length divided by 2.618 while the right side was composed using the "Rule of Thirds..." At least in the manner that I understand both of these concepts. My "negative space" is also in thirds- left, right and center, with the center space also being a depression and left and right being up-slopes (and forming a "U" in the center or an "M" across the whole presentation). My inspiration for the overall layout was from photos of real Japanese Zen gardens, combined with aquarium layouts. I spent many hours at the AGA website. This view
of the Koya Garden in Japan is a great example of what I am trying to convey via stones and "grasses" instead of stones and sand.
My overall presentation is two, 5 stone groupings, diametrically opposed (which is antithetical to the whole Zen tranquility base; one
"twist" modification to the Iwagumi concept) with the 11th stone being a sacrificial stone in the back on the right side. All the stones (inc the stones on the right) are paying homage (via angles and protrusions) to the oyaishi stone on the left. I don't know if the photos will impart this, but it comes through in person. Even my 6 year old granddaughter said this weekend that "all those rocks are looking at that sharp one."
I'll post more of the tank's evolution this evening. Everything gets greener, by the by...