Analysis of a Senske Hardscape

Art PennomAquascapes Deconstructed, Aquascaping Masters, Blog1 Comment

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One of the challenges we face in growing the planted aquarium hobby is maintenance. It’s hard work to keep aquascapes in shape. Let’s face it, most of the aquascapes we drool over are snapshots in time. They don’t look that way all the time.

In one of my podcasts, I had a great discussion with Mike Senske about this and he explained that they were focusing on hardscapes for many people. What?? An aquarium without live plants? I was a bit taken a back but he certainly did make sense. After all, I spend a lot of time explaining to hobbyists that it doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming, you just need to plan properly. So, I decided to take a look and this post was born.

Disclaimer: As I tend to do, I encourage you to take my comments in this analysis in the spirit with which they are given. It is with a heart filled with admiration and gratitude that I do these analyses. All aquascapers that I showcase are, in my humble opinion, the best in their field. In no way do I intend to disparage anyone’s aquascape. Please bear that in mind and let’s take this post as a way to explore the work and learn from it. /disclaimer

I am a firm believer that any good aquascape has good bones, i.e., hardscape. The hardscape shapes and supports the aquascape just like a good bass rythem gives the perfect foundation for the rest of the instruments. Pro tip: focus on your hardscape just as much as you do on the plants.

The tank above is one I love. The Senske brothers also have a similar one with albums. Beeee..uea..ti..ful! AND relatively simple to maintain! Nice… Let’s take a look at it using our aquascaper skills though. Can’t give the Senske guys a pass just because they’re good guys and have done so much for the hobby, right?

Overall impression

This tank is a piece of art. Doesn’t it look like a piece of modern art? No one would complain if we placed it at the entrance of the MOMA. Come on…there’s a thought!

This is not a nature aquarium per se but it certainly doesn’t feel like something alien. Even though I know the discus would normally be swimming in an area with plants I don’t find that they are out of place here. The schooling behavior in the picture support that feeling. If they felt out of place, they wouldn’t be schooling in such a natural fashion.

Rule of thirds

Why does this aquascape feel so well balanced even without plants? I know Jeff puts some real thought into his craft so we need to dig a little deeper to understand.

Here’s the tank broken into thirds:
Copyright Aquarium Design Group

Well, hello there. The bulk of the piece sits perfectly on the left third. The vertical branches with the density of where they unite really conveys weight. Even the rocks lend support to this concept. They also are carefully positioned to draw your eye up from the bottom up to the heaviest part of the scape.

Hmm… the image even has the discus exactly on this heaviest part. Coincidence? Only the Senske’s know but, well played, boys. Well played.

I also like to look at other thirds that an aquascape may have. The following image shows how the bottom third is well balanced with the branches above. This is a design element that is often forgotten by aquascapers.
Copyright Aquarium Design Group

Golden spiral

It is customary to use a mathematical formula to see if the focal point of an artwork is where it gives it’s most power. This formula is called the golden spiral and most good pieces of art follow it very well.

In keeping with what we found above using the rule of thirds, the Senske’s are “spot on” with their placement of the focal point. See below.

The large branches on the right are there to balance the piece and draw the eye back into the focal point. Nice work.

Triangles everywhere!

As human beings, we love triangles. No, I’m not a pyramid freak. It’s scientific fact. Triangles give us a sense of order and subtly adding them to your design increases it’s beauty to us.

Let’s see how this hardscape does:
Copyright Aquarium Design Group

Did you notice this triangle when you first viewed the aquascape? It’s subtle and well placed. It’s also diffused with those two vertical branches in the middle. However, this triangle serves as the backbone and allows the Senske’s to draw our eye down into the focal point. Nice. I also like the rock that anchors at the tip of the triangle. Without these rock, the aquascape would love something. Pro tip: Only add what adds to the scape. Remove everything else.

How about these two triangles?
Copyright Aquarium Design Group

Copyright Aquarium Design Group

These two are even more subtle than the first or main one. I think they are still very valuable. This is how you balance an aquascape folks. Many people use the word balance but it’s difficult to visualize and much less learn. Here the Senske’s are teaching us what it means and how to use it masterfully.

Notice the echo or reflection created by the diagonal branches on either side. They form the long side of the triangle.

Well done, guys!

I’m adding one more that may be difficult to see but I see it and think it’s important. The concept is called reflection or echoing and works well in many scapes. You typically see it with the V created by plants and it’s echoed by a triangle of sand on the bottom. Here, the Senske’s use the driftwood.
Copyright Aquarium Design Group

Final thoughts

I find the bones of this aquascape to be top notch. Truly the work of an aquascaper at the top of his game. The design of it really highlights key aspects that we can all learn from.

I also find it to be very monotone. Now, this may be on purpose and that’s fine. I think the discus are the show. That’ splash of color that really kicks up the excitement when viewing it. Perhaps using cobalt or pigeon blood would have made them pop more? Maybe. You’d run the risk that they would take over the whole work.

That is another lesson given to use by this scape- it must all work together. It’s the synergy between all aspects that truly creates a great piece of art. This aquascape does that extremely well.

I want to personally thank the Senske brothers for what they’ve taught me with this scape and for everything they’ve done for the hobby. You can see more about them on their site: Aquarium Design Group.

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One Comment on “Analysis of a Senske Hardscape”

  1. Timo from

    nice post to tell people about the design-rules used in aquascaping.
    I’m preparing a post on a designblog about aquascaping in general. And i wanted to ask if i can use your fotos from here!
    It would be nice:}
    Kind regards

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