In this second instalment of our Q&A sessions with ViDERE's Life Artists, we sat down with Nathan Dudley to dive into his past experiences of aquariums and fish-keeping.
Q) Hey Nathan! Tell us, how did you get into aquascaping & how long have you been working within this field?
I first got into aquascaping/aquariums about 8-9 years ago; I'm originally from Thailand and after moving to the UK, I was deeply nostalgic for home. Growing up, I'd had the privilege of seeing notoriously popular breeds in the trade, Betta and Siamese fighting fish, in their natural setting. So, I wanted to re-create this with my own aquarium, by filling it with fish that are indigenous to Thailand. In terms of really recognising 'aquascaping' as an art form, it was when I discovered the work of Takashi Amano (founder of Aqua Design Amano).
Q) Describe an average day in your job:
A normal day for myself, when creating aquascapes, would usually consist of coming up with an idea and particular style to characterise your creation. Whether it's having an idea that was inspired from something you've seen in the past or simply having a sort of epiphany/original vision, there are so many elements that go into creating a good concept! After this, it's all about gathering materials that would best suit your idea and having a good substrate; I usually choose between sand, gravel or pebbles as they create a sense of depth. Once I've decided what I'm going to 'harscape' with, I then pick my choice of aquatic creatures or amphibious plants (usually sticking to 1-4 species initially) and integrate them into the tank.
Q) Which elements of your profession do you enjoy the most and/or find the most rewarding?
If I had to pick; it would be when the tank is in perfect balance and harmony with every element and it fulfils your initial design vision. With creating aquaria, I personally feel like the most successful aquascapes effortlessly emulate nature and allow you to have your own piece of the natural world within your living or working space. The most rewarding part, for me, would be seeing new growth on the plants and seeing them "pearling"; or watching your fish interact with each other, by displaying either breeding behaviour or social behaviour.
Q) Is there anything new you are excited to be working on?
Definitely! Most recently, some of the aquascapes I help to create for ViDERE's 2020 Life Gallery: I loved being able to both see and create a wide variety of styles and aquascapes to create an immersive exhibition. Aside from that, I am also currently working on a new aquascape in my own home which is proving very gratifying for me; I've gained so much recent knowledge and ideas from my professional work that I'm now able to pour into my personal 'scape.
Q) What do you find the most challenging about this field?
Finding the materials for the hardscape, then actually doing the hardscape. I always end up making several subtle changes or tweaks during this part of the process, which is definitely time consuming but I guess I'm just a perfectionist!
Furthermore, deciding between specific plant species and forms can be a bit challenging as there are so many to pick from! Sometimes when the plants have filled out, the species that you decide on might not fit the 'scape way you actually wanted it too, which can be annoying. As a result, must make an adjustment accordingly to coincide with the 'scape.
Q) What do you wish you knew before working in the field?
I wish I had better knowledge on using substrate(s) in a way to create better depth in my tanks; moreover, having a better knack for the placement of certain objects, to show directional flow. I think I'd also like to make better use of shadows from rocks or wood to create a more dramatic and striking visual impact within any given aquascape/aquarium. I also wish I had known sooner about the importance of having a clear focal point within aquascapes, to attract people's eyeline to a specific area of the tank. This intentionally creates a strong first impression on anyone viewing it!
Q) What has been your favourite project to work on, personal or professional?
I've had the privilege of working on the Life Gallery and servicing client's tanks around Colmore Row for the past 6 months, which has all been very fun and informative for me! At this current moment, it's working on my own tank, though. My enjoyment comes from tackling the learning curve hands' on and trying out new ideas. This provides me with a way to develop my skills and pour my creativity into something long-lasting.
Q) Which people do you admire the most in the industry and why?
This would have to be Takashi Amano, with regards to aquascaping: I'm sure most people within the industry would agree he is essentially the grandfather/pioneer of aquascaping. The way he used plants such as "Glossostigma Elatinoides" and "Riccia fluitans" within his aquaria displays was so innovative and was in ways that hadn't been done at the time.
He established distinctive style plant layouts and used Japanese gardening concepts such as "wabi-sabi" and "zen" rock arrangements which is something I've tried to emulate in scapes of my own design. His tank compositions sought to mimic nature in appearance, and are the basis and foundations I look too when I'm trying to create 'scapes of my own with regards to using space, depth, flow, plants and fish selection. With my own work, I always try to create as natural of an environment as possible, not only for aesthetic reasons but for the fish too, as this gives them the best environment to live in and is less disruptive.
As well as Amano, I have to mention Gary Lange - the man and his work seriously that captured my attention when I discovered my favourite species and genus of fish, the Rainbowfish. I admire these two for different reasons but both have such in depth knowledge of specifics that I try to blend together and implement when creating an aquascape.