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Arnolfini - est 1961

Inspired by Victorian aquariums, Stephen Fowler offers an idea for at-home printmaking, suitable for all ages. Have a go, and show us what you make! @ArnolfiniArts #miniBABE

Stephen Fowler is an artist and illustrator. His book Rubber Stamping: Get Creative with Stamps, Rollers and Other Printmaking Techniques is available from Laurence King Publishing.

The Balanced Aquarium Workshop

Workshop Instructions
The ‘balanced aquarium’ was conceived in the Victorian era, inspired by terrariums (small glass-enclosed, indoor garden/ecosystem where photosynthesis, respiration, and the water cycle can be observed) zoologists sought to create something equally as self reliant and meditative. Except with the addition of animals this proved somewhat problematic in practice, several of the inhabitants were often eaten by their not so friendly neighbours.

The aim of this workshop is revisit this experiment through printmaking. Using what you have at home, such as paint, potatoes, cut stencils recycled packaging you too can attempt to create a ‘balanced aquarium’.


  1. Start by painting the outline of an aquarium, this can be as large or small as you want. If you have wallpaper lining it can be very, very, very long.
  2. Next carve weed shapes into a potato; then stamp the potato several time inside the aquarium to create a luscious underwater garden. Or print with wet painted cut out plant shaped textured/embossed wallpaper.
  3. If you think the garden is too big and overgrown carve some potato water snail stamps and add them to the tank, they will soon gobble up the foliage.
  4. These snails will probably reproduce pretty quickly so make snail feeding fish such as Tench.
  5. You might want to add further fish to keep your Tench company. Cut fish shaped stencils from paper or card, and using a brush or felt tip pen, colour within the fish shaped stencil. Or create patterned paper using coloured pencils, paint, potato prints whatever you have in your home, this paper can be cut up and collaged to make any number of different species of fish; Perch, Sticklebacks, Minnows, Carp, Rudd and Eels for example. Keep topping up the weed, snails and why not include some stamped Daphnia (water fleas) – more food for your fishes.

*Carp like to bask at near the surface of the tank, where as Tench prefer the bottom of the tank. You’ll also find loaches here as well they like to eat any leftovers from the tank community.

  1. Be warned some varieties of fish, such as Rudd can overcrowd a tank through reproduction. One solution is to introduce a fierce Pike to keep the fish population under control.
  2. Of course you may want to keep a wall of aquariums, each having its own variety of fish, crustacean, such as crayfish or amphibian such as a Toad, Frog or Newt. Don’t forget its spring so you’ll probably find some Frog/Toad/Newt spawn and tadpoles amongst the weeds.

Note: I’ve included some picture reference as inspiration and a number of different techniques and processes to recreate freshwater life for your aquarium/s.  Feel free to make this a drawing and/or painting workshop if you wish. Have fun !

Main image by: Kate Farely