So you know, before I became known for being an owner of Unique Corals, I was better known for being an armchair aquascaping critic! I would travel all over the country talking about aquascaping to anyone who would listen: Clubs, events, MACNA, etc. I gave a talk called "Aquascaping for the aesthetically challenged" (hey, that was ME!), about the ins and outs of reef aquarium aquascapong. It proved wildly popular, and was pretty sweet...I spend a lot of time telling people to "tear down the wall" and try different rock work in their reefs..Hmm, I haven't really touched on aquascaping much of late, have I? Well, a conversation with a customer the other day about his new reef concept triggered me to think back on the ideas I have in my head for reef systems, and the best way to make use of rock work.
"What's 'negative space', Fellman?"
One of those concepts is the use of so-called "negative space" in our designs.
If you hear my talks on aquascaping, you hear me blabber on and on about the virtues of great rockwork, avoiding the uninspired rock wall configurations, the Golden Ratio, etc. Yet for all my talk about rockwork, I seem to have neglected discussing what I feel is the need for what is known as “negative space” in an aquascape.
What exactly is “negative space”? Simply put, it’s the part of your aquascape that doesn’t have rock in it! In other words, open sand areas, devoid of rock. Gasp! “Where will I place my “Red Planet Acro” or my “Miami Hurricane”? Relax, coral freak! These areas perform a multitude of functions, both practical and aesthetic, which will increase the visual impact of your corals in ways that you’ve never even thought of before. Negative space helps “break up” long spans of rockwork, adding visual interest. Creating a focal point in an aquascape is much easier when there is an open area to break up the visual “monotony”.
Steve Weast's reef utilized negative space like no other tank...
On a practical level, negative space helps break up territories for fishes, as in the example of a tank aquascaped with multiple rock “bommies”. Each “bommie” can be a territory for fishes and for that matter, corals. If you are inclined to mix aggressive coral species, it gives them a fighting chance if they are isolated on their own individual rock ” bommie”. I have been, and always will be- a fan of multiple small aggregations of rock, scattered throughout the tank. It looks interesting and is a very maintenance-friendly configuration. The breaking up of “territory” is not just useful for keeping aggressive specimens apart, it can function as a sort of “aesthetic boundary”, allowing you to try different techniques, colors, or coral morphologies on different rock structures.
With proper utilization of negative space, you also get the opportunity to move a lot of water! The “gyre flow” that you hear me hint about works exceedingly well in this type of aquascaping configuration. A deep (ie; deep front-to-back) tank really comes alive with negative space, and even a small aquarium can look bigger when every square centimeter is not crammed with rock! Creating channels and open areas makes maintenance very easy. Since you won’t have huge walls of rock to contend with, access to many areas of your tank should be quite simple.
Give 'em some room!
Imagine being able to get a siphon hose into the aquarium without knocking over corals! You’d actually be able to work in the tank without fear of destruction! For that matter, why not utilize the sand for corals too?
In the end, it’s all about what moves you, but if you want to try something just a bit different, leave some open space in your rockwork and see what it can do for your aquascape. I think that you-and your fishes and corals- will enjoy the open space.
If you want to truly push the aesthetic envelope, try an aquascape with entirely negative space…no rock at all…just corals, similar to Leonardo’s famous and beautiful “Formosa Forest”, which inspired hobbyists with it’s completely different take on aquascaping. Although with corals filling the void, I guess you couldn’t say “entirely” white space! Nonetheless, it would be a completely different look!
Leonardo's "Formosa Forest" made liberal use of "negative space!"
By carefully utilizing negative space in your aquascape, you will also create forced perspective, which makes the aquarium seem much larger and/or deeper than it really is. In this era of smaller “nano” aquariums, it’s a valuable technique that can make the difference between mundane and spectacular, so don’t be afraid to think negative in your aquascaping process.
Please show me some of your talented use of this concept in YOUR reef designs! Everyone loves aquascaping shots!
Until next time,