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| | Aquascaper in Focus (February 2006)- Norbert Sabat
This month's Aquascaper in Focus is Norbert Sabat! This month's Aquascaper in Focus is none other than our very own Norbert! Norbert, thanks for agreeing to be this month's Aquascaper in Focus! Lets start off with me asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself. I live in Warsaw (Poland), I am 27 years old and I work as an architectural engineer. Everyday I work in an office where I am busy with architectural projects - boring work, which does not really seem to interest me. I went to school at Warsaw University of Technology but I never really finished everything (probably one day). I always liked drawing, I also loved comics (Marvel, DC etc), I also entered a few "molding" contests but after high school I lost interest. I listen to all types of music but my favorite is hip-hop.
Tell us, how did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby? How long have you been in the hobby? Honestly, I never really treated the planted aquarium hobby very seriously but there was something that always pulled me towards it. I had my first aquarium in my childhood that my father took care of. Later on I took a break from fishkeeping for 12-13 years up until 2002 when my sister received a goldfish in a fish bowl from her friends on her 18th birthday. For some reason, I started to take care of that fish by changing the water every 2-3 months, feeding it, etc. It wasn’t a large responsibility but for many aquarists (although nobody will admit to it) it all started with just a goldfish or a Siamese fighting fish in a small cup. In the summer of 2003 something pushed me to buy the poor goldfish a regular rectangular aquarium. Unfortunately, the goldfish was not too happy in its new home so it was soon moved back to the fish bowl but new fish went into the aquarium (Neons, Rams and Corydoras). It was a classic beginner tank as it was overstocked, under filtered, low light, and very poorly planted. At that point I was not even thinking of a planted fish tank, to tell you the truth. I never even knew that planted aquariums even existed! Everything changed in the Fall of 2003 when I got hooked up to the internet and started to learn about this hobby. One day I surfed to a site that had pictures of planted tanks (Amano style and Dutch style) and it left a deep impact on me. At that point, I thought that in order to create a fish tank of that magnitude you needed an unbelievable amount of determination and knowledge (plus I thought that people that created these tanks were from another world). My passion grew larger and in January 2004 I started a 100x40x45 cm tank. Over the next few months my fascination with Japanese planted tanks grew very rapidly. As a result, in April 2004 I changed my fish tank over to a planted tank (I installed more lights, Co2, started to fertilize etc). This is how it basically started for me. As you can see, I have only been in the plant hobby for less than two years. Oh yeah! The goldfish has moved from the bowl into a regular 40-liter aquarium that has been his home for almost a year. From where do you draw the inspiration for your aquascapes? This is probably going to sound weird or too general but my inspiration comes from nature itself where I am constantly searching for themes for my tank arrangements. “Searching” might be too strong of a word since 99.9% of my ideas come by accident -- sitting on a park bench looking at a clump of grass under my feet. I am a rather quiet and reserved person so that is why I love to take walks by myself where I think a lot. Very often looking at a fragment of nature (bushes by the pond, certain rock arrangements), I imagine how I can create something like that in an aquarium and what kind of plants to use in that particular aquascape. Do you follow any particular aquascaping style? My favorite tanks are in the “nature aquarium” style, especially works by Takashi Amano (only from the last 7-10 years though as the older ones don’t appeal to me), where there is a lot of artistic work. I don’t only like one particular type of arrangement but I rather equally like rockscapes as I do branches and root layouts. “Dutch Style” layouts do not touch me that much anymore as such glamour and splendor does not appeal to me. It actually reminds me of unnatural scapes, unnatural French gardens or French poodles (basically nothing that can occur in nature). As I was observing the last results in the ADA competition I can safely say that the “nature” themes are evolving into abstract offshoots. Although they did not all display a true natural picture, it was closer to my aesthetic tastes than Dutch layouts.
[break] What are your main goals when setting up a new tank? What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby? The basic rule is to have fun. I do not think too much on the arrangement. In other words, it is not my intention to use it to reveal some type of truth about life, emotions or my personal philosophies. To me, aquascaping is similar to painting- I take an empty canvas and paint whatever comes to my mind. When I finish my painting (plant/rock arrangement), I simply put it away on the shelf (i.e., I make a final picture) and take another empty canvas (i.e., I start another arrangement from zero). I believe that in order to develop ourselves we must do new things, face new challenges because if we do not, we will not progress. Without challenging ourselves, we can take one decade to work on our planted aquarium yet our arrangement will still look the same way as it did ten years ago. Practice is the basis. For me, designing plant aquariums (the first day and the first two months) is more interesting than possessing the aquarium. There is nothing more fascinating than creating an underwater garden, the stages after that are boring for me. Of course I like to marvel over the final product but if I was to look at the same arrangement over six months or a whole year I think I would go crazy ! When I position the aquarium I do not pay attention to whether or not it is in harmony with the environment because my room is too small to worry about that. When I have my own home I am sure I will take that into consideration. Up to this point my arrangements follow one basic rule: minimalism of plant types, that is why I use just 2-6 types planted in large groups. Also, I never pay attention to the chemical aspect of this hobby. One time I tried to examine the hidden processes that occur in an aquarium (absorption of nutrients, concentration of chemical compounds, etc.) but I came to the conclusion that it is not worth my aggravation. I prefer to use a moderate lighting range of 1.5-2.5 watts per gallon, therefore, I do not have to struggle to keep the aquarium in good condition. I always rely on my eyes and intuition more than testing. I prefer to play a gardener rather than a home chemist . Are there any tactics or techniques you use to make arrangement decisions in your designs? Do you use any guidelines or rules for wood or rock placement? I think I am not using (at least consciously) any rules in arranging rocks/wood and plants. I am an architectural engineer and have developed a good spatial sense. I painted for many years (supposedly I was not bad at it) so some aspects are obvious to me. When looking at an arrangement of rocks, I simply see what is wrong, I can predict how some characteristic line of arrangement will look when the plants will be grown. I can see proportions between the given elements. I do not think in the least that my aquariums are without flaws (quite the contrary) but many things come to me without any effort. I do not have to follow any rule of arranging three rocks in a “golden partition” because those rules are as instinctive as breathing to me. My last arrangements of small aquariums (48 and 44 L) were done spontaneously. Generally I knew what I wanted to do (for example, I told myself that I want to do iwagumi withmoss) but when I took the first rock in my hand, the rest was done without thinking. However, it can be said that all of my arrangements were different from the ones I arranged in my mind before I began the work. How about the use of colored plants? I try to avoid colored plants (meaning other than green). Up to this point my arrangements have been uniform except my one 180L aquarium had orange accents. Therefore, I cannot tell you much on this topic. I like small colored accents in the central and back area of the aquascape (e.g., the group rotala wallichii is often used) but I do not like aquariums where color is dominant. Do you place any special consideration on choosing the right fish for your layout? Not really. Of course fish are important, they add life to the aquariums but for me fish are just an accessory and upon changing the arrangement I remove them without any regret. Some may call me insensitive but that is the way I am. If I were to become attached to a fish it would be to some larger fish but not to some brainless school of fish such as the neon tetras. Up to this point I have tried to select the smallest fish possible to make my aquarium visually appear larger…
[break] I’m always fascinated with your aquarium backgrounds. In your pictures, they seem to resemble the far away horizon. How do you get that look? I’m always experimenting with new types of lighting for the background. Usually I use a white piece of cardboard positioned 5-10cm behind the aquarium where I shine a light from the top. This type of setup lets me take pictures where the surface of the water (in rear) is not noticeable. Additionally, this type of background along with lighting from the top creates a shadowing effect on the lower part of the background so it makes the tank seem deeper. Generally, I think that adding a great amount of light for the background gives better photos. I try to be very open to new ideas so I experiment with new colors instead of the classic blacks and blues (I think it is very difficult for some people to stop using those colors).
[break] What is in the horizon for you in terms of aquascaping?
Are there any particular ideas you look forward to implementing in future arrangements? Do you feel that you have anything left to learn?
It’s hard to tell what the future brings. Due to a lack of time, I took apart all of my planted tanks except for one biotope 44 liter with Apistos. I just think that I need a little break so I can catch my breath and look with fresh eyes at aquascaping. One reason being is that I was somewhat “bored” of my last aquascapes, where I was looking at the environment but I was not satisfied with the results. I was not able to trick myself into believing that small tanks can be just as passionate as large ones. I think that I learned enough to create any type of arrangement so for now I will just perfect the tools of the trade and concentrate on the artistic aspect. Like I said before, my aquascapes are pretty simple; in the future (if I set up another planted tank) I will concentrate on the smaller details and larger variety of plants. My biggest calling will be a tank with HQI lighting in the range of 3-3.5WPG. I was always afraid of a strong light like that and I always thought that it was not necessary to have a beautiful tank.
Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?
Look at as many pictures of tanks as possible, analyze the arrangements and plant selections so you can see for yourself where a specific plant should be placed, how it grows etc. If you want you can just copy other aquascapes (only the best ones). Some may critique you for it but it’s a good lesson for you. Never begin with really strong light so if you have no experience stay away from the 2.5-3.5WPG range as all you will have is problems. Constantly practice with your arrangements and remember one thing, “Rome was not built in one day”.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak about this hobby and Kamil for translating it. All photos are protected by international copyright law and owned by Norbert Sabat
Last edited by MiamiAG; 01-28-2006 at 09:11 AM..