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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi guys, I want to share with you an article I wrote back in 2000 when I was still a planted tank noob and also very much a poor student... I see many tanks online that try to copy amano, but end up looking shockingly devoid of appropriate planning or with plants or hardscapes totally out of proportion with the tank.

Many people design naturally, but many more do not (like myself, who had to learn it and I still am!), and hopefully some of these tips can help you make your next aquascape, a good one :).

Aquascaping 101

To successfully build a complex and interesting aquascape, there are several simple rules that can be followed. Please note, that you should already have the knowledge of how to grow plants successfully before attempting to create more complex aquascapes.

There must be an aim in all things, and in Aquascaping, my personal aim is to create an aesthetic piece of art, something the eye will find complex, interesting and most of all, beautiful. To accomplish this goal, there are some basic concepts - Complements, contrasts, tension and depth. These can be achieved with 4 simple tools - triangles, the golden ratio, perspective and asymmetry


Triangles provide paths for the eye to follow, and create tension in a scape. The eye naturally follows straight lines along a path from left to right and right to left. In a tank diagonals allow the eye to follow the plants on a "path" and within this path we should mix up the contrast of colour and shape. In my 29 gallon, There are several diagonals/triangles. The main one begins from the far left with the Rotala rotundifola. This is the climax, or centre point of my tank. The slope descends into some Hygrophila polysperma which provide a similar colour but different leave shape. Surrounding this triangle is a "band" of green. This contrast creates a complexity that I believe is useful in creating an aesthetic picture.

Triangles are created by varying levels of height. This is created by pruning into a triangle, the Rotala shoots for the surface and the Hygrophila grows at a slower rate. to the sides of the Hygrophila are some H. difformis and H. sp. (unknown), these both grow quite low and provide contrast in colour and leaf shape.

As you can see, there is another triangle in use here. As the tank is viewable from two sides, it is important for me not to clutter the open spaces. The furthest left of this picture shows the small leafed elatine (a wild plant i collected) playing a role in complementing the Rotala rotundifola.


Perspective of depth is created by using different spaces of the tank, vertical, horizontal and depth.


Open spaces are very important in building planted space. They allow a space for fish to swim in, and a space to plant high light and focal plants. I think a flat area provides alot of space for experimentation, particularly in creating complex lawns. Hair grass, Glossotigma and Echinodorus tenellus form the carpet, and the leaf shapes contrast each other and colours complement each other.


To create a sense of depth, most aquarists have a shallower gravel bed in the front, and a deeper one in the back, (e.g 5cm -> 13cm). This can be taken one step further, by building areas of deeper gravel. This was done in my tank by placing the length of rock along the back, and damming up gravel behind it. This allowed me to plant the Rotala at the back as though it was a very "tall plant". By building these terraces, it creates steps and aids in triangle building, and is important as the longer a stem plants grows the likelier the bottoms will thin out no matter the amount of light/co2 or ferts.


Similar to the triangle idea, try to use triangles that are both deep and tall, they allow you to the viewer to see the entire tank, not just parts of it.

Golden Ratio

It is not advisable to plant centrepieces, directly in the centre. If you see the first picture, there is the two lines down the centre cut at around 3/5th of the tank. This is known as the Golden section, It is where things seem "paradoxically more balanced, more appealing to our aesthetic sensibility." (Amano, NAW). when placing rocks or wood it is good to remember this.

Also (unlike what I've done), it is a good idea to keep heaters out of the way, it is unsightly. This can be done by either buying a Lifegard/hydor ETH heater module or placing it under the tank. The same goes for output of filters and powerheads. The reason for my placing is out of practicality.


The reason why the golden ratio works, is because it uses asymmetry, the human mind looks at asymmetrical things as complex and tense, and forces us to look further. I won't rant lyrical, only avoid symmetry like the plague.


These are only suggestions, in the end Aquasculpture is a highly personal thing, every person should design their tanks to their own tastes. Allow your own creative juices to run wild and enjoy creating. If you do not enjoy it, take a break and try again later. Aquasculpture must come from both the heart and the mind.

Remember the basic rules

Complements, contrasts, tension and depth.

Triangles, the golden ratio, perspective and asymmetry

2007 update :)

My 6x2.5x2.5 also used some basic techniques to create some of the complements, contrasts, tension and depth

The bunch of jungle fern and the val behind creates a very obvious focal point, and follows the golden ratio rule.

The bottom left of the jungle fern is a small patch of java fern which creates a triangle with the invisible bolbitis (hidden by photo)

I also wanted to create massive contrast of light and created alot of shade under the jungle fern, I love the feel that darkness in tanks evoke, they make you feel like you are in the jungle, where light does not penetrate everywhere and it creates a depth that is infinite.
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