If you read my blog posts and articles 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. The recent aquascaping “Throwdown” at Reefstock 2010 showcased the use of “negative space”, with both myself and my man, John Ciotti, utilizing a healthy dose of it in our designs.
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”.
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 Jake often expounds on 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.
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!
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.
Ed. Note: The pictures in this post are from the reef tank of Nano-Reef.com user Sushi; his tank employs near perfect use of negative space in his aquascape from at least two angles of his tank. check out the feature of Sushi’s awesome nanoscape in this month’s Nano-Reef.com Reef Profile.
Until next time,