Suiseki and Penjing

Why do I have a page about chinese gardening on an aquarium-related website? Because the elements of design used in miniature gardening (penjing) are of great use in an aquarium or terrarium. They are the elements of "total design" in a confined area, and can transform a collection of fish, plants, and rocks into a splendid and imaginitive scene.

Suiseki is also pertinent to aquarium design. The word "suiseki" translates to "water stone". It is, by simple definition, the displaying of certain characteristics of a stone. Nature carves rocks into magnificent shapes and forms, some of which echo other natural formations or evoke a sense of design. These rocks are called suiseki, and the art form is that of finding and displaying such a rock in a way that it becomes a form of art. In true suiseki, the rock is never carved or broken, or it loses it's value. There are also different categories of suiseki, including those that look like a landscape, mountain, island, or valley; or those that appear to have a waterfall cascading down them. Other forms of suiseki are those that look like some sort of object, like an animal or a tree. Still another form is that which has a pattern occuring in the stone, such as snowflakes of flowers. These rocks are beautiful when displayed in an aquarium, which draws a viewer in and focuses the imagination on the contents of the aquarium. And where better to put a "water stone" than in water?

Penjing translates to "garden in a dish", but I think the term could be stretched to aquariums as well. After all, isn't an aquarium an underwater garden? Perhaps the most widely recognized form of penjing is bonsai, which means "potted plant". These are usually trees, but can also be bamboo, shrubs, or any other plant. Penjing is more of a whole scene, and often encorporates bonsai in it. Using rocks such as suiseki, the artist arranges a scene using the material's natural form and beauty. Using rules of placement and texture, one creates a feeling of scale and depth. If done correctly, the final image should allow the viewer's eye to encompass the whole scene in one glance, but be entrancing enough to draw them into it. One of the secrets to being successful at this form of design is to observe nature and apply it's principles to make the scene appear relaxed. Avoid right angles, parallel lines, even numbers and flat ground. In nature, trees grow at angles as the wind and sun effect their growth, things lie diagonally to eachother, and the ground rolls and slopes. Another key is to keep plants under control. Make sure they are kept pruned neatly and within the bounds of design, or the end result will be a tangled mess.

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