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Kevin Kelley

Posted by Dustin Wunderlich on

aquascaping contest

NAME: Kevin Kelly

AGE: 40

Location: Brooklyn, NY

When did you first start working on aquariums?

12 years ago

What are some of your sources for inspiration when you design an aquascape?

I love good design, be it a painting, a comic book, an aquascape, in nature, or even an ad. I love to borrow good design technique from as many sources as possible. This passion for new and innovative design ideas is also my downfall, as none of my scapes have a lifespan longer than six months. There is a constant bombardment of new and good ideas, and I want to try them all.

How is your personality reflected in the design?
I am a patient, meticulous, curious, and adaptable man who believes in planning well. It is very rare that my scapes are not rendered and tested before execution. I understand, however, that nothing goes to plan, so like the plants contained in my glass houses, the scape is also in a state of flux –  adjusting and growing to maturity. My curiosity is constantly pushing the limits, with more failures than successes. As I try new techniques and solve problems, I am learning how to create scapes that look as effortless and simple as possible. I spend weeks to months just learning as much as I can about as much as I can for my next project.

What are your favorite aquascaping materials?
Ohko stone is my favorite material to work with, by far. It’s lightweight and versatile, with beautiful angles, spires, and a dappled light color. Cleaning the compacted clay out gives it an almost gothic shape with lofty arches and buttresses. Choose the right stone or leave the compacted clay, and it gives a smoother, water worn appearance. It is a softer stone that can be carved with a chisel or even an X-Acto knife. Fitting Ohko stones together in a scape is easier, as you can create a joint with certain parts of the stone given enough time and patience.

What are your thoughts on the state of the planted aquarium hobby in the US today?

To sum up in a word – Availability. The availability of knowledge, equipment, plants, and confidence.
The ease of locating good quality, yet affordable equipment and plants is certainly a huge contributor to the state of the hobby. As I was clearing my cache last night and using a search engine I rarely use, (BING) I attempted to find the specialized equipment and plants that I prefer. After two hours of searching, I only found ⅓ of what I was looking for. You can blame algorithms or SEO’s, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s impossible to find specialized equipment and plants in the US. You have to be in the ‘know’ to find these items or pay extra to ship from overseas. This is extremely frustrating to the average hobbyist. This inability to locate and purchase affordable equipment is holding the United States back.

This leads to problem two. Compromise. The lack of easily found equipment leads the novice to buy subpar plants and equipment, normally from a chain store. They are duped by terrible advice in the name of sales. The plants melt, and the equipment fails. Desperate, the novice turns to internet forums looking for help. Unfortunately, some of the elders in these online communities have lived in compromise for so long they perpetuate the stagnant nature that has become the hobby norm. The novice looks at their tank, with melted plants and dying fish, then at their computer screen, filled with beautiful, lush tanks from around the world. The novice throws up their hands and gives up. I feel this is what happens to many with interested in this hobby, and it is a great sadness and loss. To be successful for now, you have to be stubborn and steadfast. The internet can be extremely intimidating as well. Seeing a beautiful tank, and wanting to recreate, only to fail, or not even try at all seems to be a big issue in the hobby today.

What would it mean to be recognized as a leader and innovator in aquarium design?
If I could pass on just a few lessons, it would be that it is possible to have a beautiful layout with patience, perseverance and planning, not just throwing money at your tank. There are a lot of good ideas out there and advice, so don’t be afraid to email anyone with questions, ever. As an illustrator, I do not have an exorbitant income. I only spend on the hobby what I can make on plant and equipment sales, and the kindness of my local club.

As a designer, the best advice I ever received, was never to be intimidated by elitists. Those that do not share, have nothing to teach. This hobby and my profession are about bringing a little bit of beauty into the world.  It is a great loss to the entire hobby if we stop teaching and helping others.

What do you love most about the hobby?

I believe this is more than a hobby, it is a lifestyle. It’s a revolving door of emotions that change daily. As a city dweller in a small New York apartment, the added beauty is a relief to my soul. Those in my local community are amazing, and without them I feel my levels of frustration would be significantly higher. I love the work, the daily trimming, fertilizing and observing of my microcosm. It’s truly my most happy place.

What can people expect from you during the contest?
Hopefully something clever. I’m a slow and steady scaper; the time restraint will be the biggest stress for me.


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