Summer 2007 : "Summer Mountains" by Steven ChongPublié par Niclette – 1er août 2007
Interview by Kookaburra
Article sous licence :CC by-nc-nd
How old was this tank when the pictures were shot ?
Almost 3 months old. The layout was set up Jan. 15th 2007, and the photo was taken April 22nd.
Was there a specific inspiration source or a purpose in this layout ?
In the summer of 2006 I made a trip out to Japan to study abroad, visit my mother’s relatives, and tour around the country. While there were many breath-taking sights, this Aquascape is based on something much humbler than the great landmarks. It’s an Aquascape based on the most typical type of summer country-side scene in Japan, with mountains covered in deep green foliage highlighted by varying sized spurts of bamboo. Sometimes they would be a cool image with mist and clouds at the top. Sometimes they would be warm settings. Either way, the contrast between bamboo and deep green trees always left me mesmerized.
Did you encounter some special difficulties to bring this layout to what you intended ?
In this layout, the foliage of trees was imitated with moss tied to twigs, while the texture and color of bamboo was imitated by Rotala Najenshan. One difficulty I faced was the camera’s difficulty in distinguishing the difference in color between the two plants. In the intial planting, just attaching moss to sticks with thread took 4 hours.
The plants included some of the most difficult to plant and maintain in the entire hobby :
Keeping all these plants around and happy was very difficult. Floating riccia, tangling utricularia, uprooted HC, over-thick glosso and algae growing on moss were logistical annoyances.
Aside from this, I faced an internal debate about how bushy the moss should be allowed to grow. On one hand, the image of a mass of moss imitated well the type of over-grown foliage I envisioned. On the other, too much overwhelmed viewers, and I faced difficulties in having others empathize with the motif I had chosen. In the end though, I ripped out the moss on the right side, and did some last-minute improve scaping that struck a balance.
Can you show us pictures of the evolution of this tank (from the start to the final picture) ?
Can you indicate the technical specifications of this tank (dimensions, light, CO2, nutritive ground,filtration, etc...) ?
The tank is an ADA 60cm (60cm x 30cm x 36cm). It was lighted by 2 over head 55 watt PC florescent bulbs, but using both only for the middle 3 hours of the 8 hour photo-period. CO2 was a simple pressurized system using the Milwaukee brand all-in-one that is popular in America. I had a canister filter, the EHEIM 2213.
Can you indicate the water parameters of this tank (temperature, KH, GH, PH, CO2 and NO3 rates) and what are your water changes (quantity, frequency, type of water) ?
Actually I wouldn’t be able to. Like many others now, I rarely tested and instead relied on plants as indicators. I changed water twice a week, with one large 4 gallon change and one smaller 2 gallon change each week. I used 100% NO, something I wouldn’t recommend but couldn’t really help myself, having a complete lack of trust in the tap water at my College.
Can you explain how this tank is fertilized ?
In the past I’ve used dry fertilizers, but opted to try ADA this time around. For the first month the tank got nothing but a small amount of K2SO4 for potassium during water changes. After that, I dosed Step 1 3 times a week (2 squits).
How long have you been a “planted tanks addict” and how did you come to this special field of the aquaristic hobby ?
I used to have a 10g as a kid, with the full compliment of a couple guppies and corydoras cats with gravel and anacharis. In highschool I decided I missed having fish around, and got back into it. However, a visit to a pet store that had a full-blown planted tank would totally alter the path of my aquarium-keeping.
I was awestruck by the bubbling fields of riccia, soaring mountains of moss covered wood, and brilliant red rotala that filled the backdrop and poked up like flowers amidst the riccia. I thought it was more brilliant than painting. I had always been an artist with painting and drawing, and upon seeing Aquascaping, felt like I had found a calling.
It’s been 4 years since then. Most of that time was spent tinkering with (setting up, taking down repeatedly) a whole bunch of tank under 15g, starting many but finishing none. I finally got serious and took 2 different layouts in my 60cm tank through the full course of their lives (3 months), the first was “Hau Coast,” and the second was “Summer Mountains,” featured here.
Do you have other tanks that you would like to show us ?
There’s Hau Coast, the first layout I did in the 60cm upon returning from Japan, inspired by a Hawaii coastline : Hau Coast
There’s also a layout I did in a 5g tank imitating autumn : Autumn Maples
One more I did last winter using Native Hawaiian plants : Hawaii Wabi
All of these layouts except the autumn one will make a competitive appearance in the coming AGA contest.
When designing a new layout, what are usually your main inspiration sources ?
I think an aquascaper has 2 primary sources he can go to (other aquascapers/other artists being “secondary” sources). The first is nature. The second is his own imagination, ie— his own fantasies.
Hau Coast and Summer Mountains were 100% nature inspired, and I don’t mean the type of scaping school of style Amano uses.
I used my own creativity when it came to designing the layout, but the subjects are not from my fantasy. They are subjects from real places, and my layouts were attempts at almost perfect renditions of those places. I chose plants and layout materials that either perfectly imitated the subjects own plants and hardscape, or at least gave the same type of impression. Fish were chosen to go with the mood that I felt being in the places I aquascaped.
These types of perfect-rendering scapes are what I have done so far, but I do not think of them as “my style.” With more confidence, I plan to do other scapes not based on only real places, but also my fantasies— places that can be completely fictional, or mixing and melting of ideas, dreams, feelings and inspirations taken from other works of art.
Have you been influenced in your work by famous aquascapers ?
Amano Takashi. We might as well get that out of the way, because let’s face it— Amano’s amazing. Who isn’t at least partway indebted to him ? For me though, Amano is definitely an artist who has a strong effect on me. His newer works set the standard for execution. His older works are marvels of the artist spirit that constantly struggles for growth and innovation. As a Japanese American (through my mothers side), who feels a strong affinity for Japanese culture (with a fair level of Japanese speaking ability), I can’t help but feel a connection to Amano and the Japanese Aquascaping culture.
Aside from Amano though, there are a whole host of other aquascapers who have touched me. I would not be able to mention them all. I think thought that if you really want to get good, you cannot just look at the best— while I have been taking a break from the forums this summer, I used to scour them for inspiration, looking at the work of the best as well as the worst, because sometimes genius appears even from people who do not know what they are doing. It might be somewhat sneaky, but perfecting ideas unfinished by more neophyte hobbyists can give an edge to someone trying to innovate. One must let himself be open to all sources as his teachers.
Not just aquascapers though, other artists are a great source of inspiration. Painters and nature photographers in particular are important to me. I hold a strong connection to an oil painter in Hawaii named Hiroshi Tagami, whose spirited paintings of mountains, shorelines, forests, parade grounds, Japanese street sides, horses, and others are what I consider my “roots,” both as a painter and now as an aquarium designer. When I sit with Hiroshi in his mountain home on the North Shore of Oahu, I feel like I am in the presence of the true spirit of a “Nature Artist.” Grey mist-rains flow in and out, cool trade winds blow, golden sunshine comes through, and plants grow everywhere.
A simple man, a simple life, not working in his art, but loving it instead. When I think about how Amano Takashi, president of a huge company and world-wide famous artist also lives out in the middle of a small rice-farming farm miles from any large city, I feel like these type of men understand the real spirit of nature.
What piece(s) of advice would you give to a beginner in planted tanks ?
Innovation is good, but gaining knowledge will be your most important endeavor. Know your plants, know your facts about caring for plants, and study the art of scaping as much as you can. If you can, try to read Nature Aquarium World Volume I. It never hurts to plan more, and it never hurts to save until you have everything you want for your first endeavor.
As a warning, don’t let yourself be distracted by the newest coolest plants and fish. In general, you dictate which plants to use in an Aquascape. The plants do not dictate what type of Aquascape you make.
Do you have a project which you would like to tell us about ?
I will be starting my 60cm tank again in September. I am really looking forward to it. I’m thinking of breaking my trend of nature-following scapes. Actually, I was thinking of letting myself imitate movie scenes— something from Mononoke Hime by Gibli studios, or even something out of a Pokemon movie. We’ll see.
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