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Old 03-18-2012, 01:36 AM   #73
Francis Xavier
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Secrets to Successful Stone Arrangement

Most people see the beautiful works of renown aquascapers and wonder: "how do I do that?" Before they know it, they attempt it and in frustration can't figure out how to make their layout look like the pictures.

I'm going to give you the number one secret to stone arrangement, and it's not about having the fanciest looking stone (although that certainly helps), for perspective, the stones I used in this layout contain nothing but "left-over" material that no customers wanted (after 6 months of sitting on the shelf!), and so it found it's way into my personal collection.

You've probably spent hours fiddling around with stones in your aquarium, in what started out as exuberant enthusiasm ended in frustration and headache. You then probably posted pictures of your hardscape to other people on the internet in hopes of feedback and tweaks, and in the end you have three or four copies of a layout that's based on what someone else thinks and no matter what you do it just doesn't feel "right." It seems "forced," when it grows in and you then said something like "eh, Iwagumi just isn't for me," or "man, if I just had better stones like the pro's, I could do this too."

Don't worry, I was just like you and did exactly the same pattern I see repeatedly done over and over again on TPT and other forums. Just laugh and go "yeah, yeah we do do that a lot don't we?"

I'm not saying that getting other's feedback is a bad thing: it can be incredibly valuable. Priceless even. But don't let that make your entire scape or change your gut feelings.

Jesus! What is this secret already then?

Frank's Iwagumi method:

The first secret is simple, remember my first exercise? VISUALIZE! Don't visualize mountains or landscapes or any of that. But, visualize your aquarium layout, how you want it, regardless of what you have now, and you will succeed invariably with it. Focus on how the plants will grow in.

In other words BEGIN your layout with the END in mind. The number one reason why most layouts fail is because they begin at the beginning, and not at the end. If that doesn't make sense, imagine yourself shooting free throws in basketball. If there was no basket to shoot at - you wouldn't have a goal to aim for and score. You would be just throwing a basketball aimlessly in a random direction: how can you hope to succeed like that?

State of mind is extremely important to scaping in general: it should take you no longer than 15-20 minutes to lay down an aquarium, and in a nano tank i'd even say about 5 minutes. You need to be relaxed: not stressed or frustrated or your layout will show it.

Scaping much longer than 30 minutes in an aquarium leads to the scape feeling 'forced,' and you lose the ability to 'see,' whats right and wrong naturally. So if you're experiencing scapers block after 30 minutes, leave it and move on and come back the next day: or at least in a few hours.

The second secret is a little unintuitive: the most important factor to an iwagumi is selecting a main stone of appropriate size, not character, for the aquarium it's placed in. Your first focus is size: it needs to fit to scale, the second focus is character and detail.

In most mini's this means that the objective is to select a rock you think is over sized. You want to place this stone first. Always place the main stone first, the rest should follow.Here's some picture references:

Placing the main stone *tip, keep the slope fairly high, this gives you greater manipulation of seemingly flat pieces and smaller pieces to look larger*:



In a nano it's okay to be a little centered due to the small canvas size. Place the stone at a pleasing angle. A brief description of angles: straight = stable, flat = stable, 45 degree angle = drama, angles closer to straight = stable, slightly dramatic, angles closer to 45 degrees = dramatic, closer to stable.

With ALL of your supporting stones it's very important to make sure texture and color matches, not just stone type, so select stones that 'feel,' like they are part of the same group.

Place the secondary stone (your second largest) :



In this example you can see that this stone (which is flat by the way by itself), forms an opposite angle to the main stone, which is situation straight up (stable), this adds a "dramatic" feel to the layout, by redistributing the "energy," or "flow," of the aquascape. (Dollface, maybe you can draw some angles on these pictures with diagrams, hint hint)

An important note: in an iwagumi, usually the SECOND stone is the most important in the whole layout, as it dictates how the scape will flow and how you plant accordingly to that.

Think of the main stone as the star actor in the movie, and the supporting stone as the director, the star actor has the spotlight on him/her, but the director 'directs,' the whole picture.

Next up, we place some supporting small stones:



This stone mostly acts off of the power of the supporting stone, matching it's angle and softening the overall angle of that side of the tank, it will be largely invisible when plants grow in. It's a "hidden" trick, but very important. Even stones that will eventually be covered up by growth are essential for the layout.

Finishing the scape, fourth and fifth stone:



These stones largely dictate one thing: they go in motion with the main stone and distribute the "flow" of the aquarium cleanly down into the corner where it pleasantly ends. This completes the layout so that the eye has no place to wander unnaturally, and when placed together like this, form a single "cluster" or grouping of stones that look as if they might appear together.

*Important note* some of the placement here might look odd at first even, and the reason is, is that the END picture of the scape is for the majority of the secondary and tertiary stones to be completely covered by plants. Here's a great lesson for the necessity of stones, even if you plan on them being covered later on and the necessity for visualizing.

Fun exercise: Go back to the first page, read the end of the first post, and perform the visualization exercise once more (or for the first time).

P.S. Use a sand flattener (or other straight edged tool) to flatten out the substrate line in front. This is extremely important:



P.S. if you've found these techniques valuable, help share the information with new comers by linking back here in your own journals when you use my techniques!
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