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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am attempting to create a good thread that highlights the principles of Aquascaping.

My first idea was to take the "accepted" principles of design and relate them to our hobby. That way led to some heated arguments about what exactly the priciples of design are.

This is a rather "new" venue in our hobby - sparked by many contests and photography, and I want to explore this idea and make a collective of ideas on aquascaping that can be used by everyone to create better aquascapes.

I fully understand that good art is in the eye of the beholder but I want to make something that can be used to please everyone that looks at a tank without going too far into exceptions and innovation.

Please offer your opinions on what priciples of aquascaping should be. I will try to include as many ideas as I possibly can.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
The Principles of (Landscape) Design

Balance – The principle of balance refers to the “equality of visual attraction”, or equilibrium of materials used in the layout.

Focalization – Focalization is principle of drawing a viewer's attention to one particular part of the design.

Transition – Transition is the “flow” of a viewers gaze from one part of the design into another part.

Proportion – The design’s proportion is how the size of each part "fits" with the rest of the design.

Unity – Unity is how well the design expresses an idea through a consistent application of materials.

Rhythm – The principle of rhythm is how well the layout creates a feeling of being a small part of something much larger.

Repetition – Repetition is the creation of motion through a series of different materials.

Simplicity – Simplicity is the use of a limited number of materials to create a successful design.

These principles are based on landscaping design which I think relates as closely as possible to aquascaping.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I would like to apply the principles of design to aquascaping. Picking a specific perspective will give an idea about how the principles of design affect that particular discipline, but not aquascaping as a whole. For example iwagumi landscapes aren't really that dedicated to colors, focalization, etc. but are very heavy on line and simplicity. I want something more encompasing.
 

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One rule and one rule only

Please yourself -Don't follow someone else's over-saturated, self-indulgent, set of guidelines. It may be a box, but it doesn't mean you have to be constrained to it. You can't please everyone all the time, so you might as well please yourself. After all this is suppose to be a hobby that you enjoy. Dare to be different and don't be afraid of failure. If you follow everyone else you just might fail yourself.

Just my honest 2¢.

10 people can look at a cloud and see 10 different things. All it takes is one to point out how it looks like a pig and argue their case, now everyone sees the pig. Now 9 things were lost to conformity.
 

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if you always follow those guidelines you'll never leave them and discover new ones...

but one of the most important aspects to planted tanks... at least I think... is knowing where the plants will grow... how they'll form as they mature... etc...
 

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In order to break rules, you need to understand how they work first.

In re to Dryn: Iwagumi is extremely focused on color coordination and focalization, it's just more subtle than an abrupt color change (like green to red out of nowhere). For example, I've completely thrown out a plant in a layout that I've had because it's color wasn't cooperating with the color and composition of it's neighbor. And that's just with shades of green. Reds can be used, they just aren't as common.

The manipulation of focal points and how the stones are laid out in accordance with size, shape and location is even more important in Iwagumi since the entire impression of the layout rides on how it manipulates the emphasis of empty space, filled space, and the position and angles of the stone in relation to the layout as a whole.
 

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In my case I just usually put the plants where they grow best. I have noticed that certain plants grow better in different parts of the tank. I do like more of a Dutch style so this works well for me.
 

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Rules are made to be broken. The ends justify the means. That's not just in this art form, but in all forms of art. The principles are there as guidelines, or a starting point, but they are not rigid, and they will box you in fast if you subscribe to them as dogma.

I guarantee you that Da Vinci did NOT pull out a measuring tape and make markers on his canvas to decide where the phi ratio focal points would be. Not that there's anything wrong with doing it that way, I'm just trying to point out that the end result makes it look as if he could have done it that way. The ends justify the means. (I like that saying-- I use it a lot in engineering, as well!)
 

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One does not have to understand rules to break them. One has to have those rules taught first to be cognitive of them.

No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.
Ansel Adams
 

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It's best to think of rules in this fashion: they aren't so much rules, as they are fundamentals (well aside from things like, matching stone types in an Iwagumi). You can be a creative genius naturally without having learned anything, but you would still improve upon your skills by knowing the fundamentals and refining your technique.

In fact, I would go so far to say that the lack of fundamentals is exactly what creates the disparity between professional looking aquascapes and every-day run of the mill aquascapes. Innovation just ends up getting lost by poor overall design, which is a sad thing. Fundamentals don't box in the creative process, they expand the creative capacity for prowess.

No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.
Ansel Adams
I agree, but encouraging someone to learn and get a firm grasp of fundamentals, or even going so far as to say it is a necessity, is in no way, shape or form dictating what they create or produce. It's merely a tool to refine their own vision, and even if you learn the fundamentals just to break them, you still end up breaking them in a more refined way.

There are however, some rules, that unequivocably cannot be broken - for example the second you put a piece of driftwood into your "iwagumi" layout, it no longer qualifies as an Iwagumi.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
wow. I cannot help but to agree with everything that has been said. Design is very much a matter of preference. However, design does follow a set of principles. Not rules exactly, but more like guidelines. I had the day off and I spent it in the library researching design: landscape, portraits, photo, flower arrangement, etc. and I've come to the conclusion that there are very much a set of guidelines that can be used by anyone - the novice or the guru genius - to create a layout that successfully appeals to a wide range of viewers. Not everyone will like everything you create and some people may be drawn to that tank that is innovative and unique. I'm not saying you have to follow the guidelines, more like you should just keep in mind that they are there. I'm going to take the next two days to write a better article on aquascaping based on design principles. I hope to include some graphics to illustrate my ideas.
 

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For example iwagumi landscapes aren't really that dedicated to colors, focalization, etc. but are very heavy on line and simplicity. I want something more encompasing.
Hmm... not sure I agree with this. Not dedicated to your rainbow colors maybe if comparing to a Dutch style, but in actuality, an Iwagumi is all about contrast of the light and dark, light and shade, proper arrangement of materials and certainly complimenting the plants with the hardscape.

Saying its not dedicated to focalization is not really accuate either. It still follows the basic principles as any other scape would... you just simplify the plant list and focus more on the hardscape and grading of the substrate (to generalize the style...)

This may be a more subjective statement and not really a fundamental principle.
 

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Pleasing yourself is key. On my new rock scape, I planned to get advice on the board because I knew it wasn't perfect. I would rather do it myself than keep trying to make something perfect and end up marginally better than I started.

I think the main thing is different tanks will have different rules. A jungle tank can be anything you want it to be. Really no rules except there will usually be hardscape and more than a few varitey of plants. A dutch scape is supposed to be complex in design but may not look complex in the end. Color is more important (imo) than scale though a variety of plants with different leaf sizes should be used. Contrast is key. Lastly, in a natural style tank, your focus will be scale first and for most. The better you get this, the more convincing it is. The design is simple at face value. A few rocks and/or peices of driftwood and usually 2 or slightly more speices of plants. However, all this is very maticulous and highly planned.


For me, I would say the golden rule is pretty much all I try to follow. I will do my best to mimic what I have seen with my own twist. I think the artistic side is like any art. Don't try to perfect your first or second or 8th scape. Try to improve and just learn what you enjoy, get rid of anything you don't. Eventually, you will be more able to see what you really like and what you don't.

I am on my 6th scape or so and still am in the "learning" mode. I will see things that arn't perfect and may or may not change them. If it means tearing down the tank to be happy, I wait until I know what I don't like. Knowing what you like is easy, getting rid of elements you don't like is where I would recommend on focusing on. Where does your tank lack sort of thing. Car designer Chip Foose has the saying "smack the ugly out of it" or something to that effect.
 

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What I've found to be the most fascinating aspect of aquascaping is the malleability of pretty much any design.

Meaning, specifically, that a scape you set out for in the first place more often than not becomes something quite different over time - substrate settles or is pushed around by the current; perhaps your fish decide to murder one of your plants; perhaps one of your plants ends up growing far faster than everything else, etc.

Over time, I'm sure the variables become a lot more predictable, but the real blessing about being a beginner at something like this is that your scape can change pretty much every time you do tank maintenance. And therefore, as you learn the principles of plant care, you also get the chance to learn what good design is.

The Golden Ratio isn't some magic number plucked from thin air. It's quite literally the structure of nature - and at the risk of sounding hokey, it exists in all of us. So when you fiddle around with placement, you're training yourself over time to find that ratio on its own, and you will. As Church said - Leonardo didn't have to measure to find the ratio, just like he didn't have to measure the distance of his subjects eyeballs to his chin, or any other such nonsense that you'll find in a 'drawing principles' book. It's a harmony that you'll eventually find for yourself.

That said, I apologize, because this doesn't really relate to your quest to find the core tenets of the art form, rather somewhat discourages you from looking for them in the first place. And I do think that it is important to figure these things out.

If I could critique you article, or your quest to find these guidelines, I'd say that you're focusing a little too much on the theory and lacking a description of the application. Show us, or describe to us, the application of these 'rules'. Show us how Hadrian laid out his villa, or how Victorian gardens were planned out.

Finally, I think the most interesting 'rules' are those that stem from human interpretation. What makes a stunning landscape so sublime in comparison to a boring one? That's the cool stuff, I think. Again, I think it's mainly a 'learned' knowledge - Bob Ross didn't know where to plant his 'happy little trees' because he read it in a book - but there ARE known principles about why we like some things, and why we dislike others, and this is pretty neat information.

Blah blah blah, sorry for carrying on so long.
 

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well said but.....

The Golden Ratio isn't some magic number plucked from thin air. It's quite literally the structure of nature - and at the risk of sounding hokey, it exists in all of us.
to be more correct, it is a construct we made to find things that are beautiful to us.. Infinite Proportions exist in nature but we only find a face of a puppy cute vs a face of a moose for instance.
 

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As the OP is finding out, it's very hard to do a quick summary of design basics. Volumes and volumes of books have been written about theory, many brilliant works or art have been created by people who can't read.

That said, for anyone serious about design it is worth studying at least basic theory. The reason is most people can't explain why they like or dislike something and if you can't analyze why you like it, it will be very hard to create something you are happy with. Yes, some people are born with a natural gift, but everyone can improve their art through learning.

Knowing theories (notice the plural) does not confine you to the use of those theories, it allows you to pick and choose the ones that feel right to you, because you have to please yourself first. Eventually your "rules" will become second nature.

Good art requires practice.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I have had more responses on this thread than any other. I've spent the last two days in the library researching design theories, principles, and composition. I have always heard that there are "rules" or guidelines to follow by I've never actually found any in our hobby. I ended up compiling a large amount of information that I've only just begun digesting. There are dozens and dozens of principles of design. There are even more elements. But not all of them apply to aqquascaping (for example the use of text). I ended up deciding on several "rules" of aquascaping based on contest critiques and "rules" (like keep healthy plants and follow Basic Techniques), and then defining four Basic Aquascaping Principles and four Basic Aquascaping Elements. I cross referenced them in a simple chart give a simple idea of how they apply to one another. Again, this is very, very basic and open to suggestion.
 
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