hidden depths

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‘But it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them.’
— Ursula Le Guin

 

The Girl and the Seven Dragons of the Deep

Once upon a time there was a girl. A girl whose heart was weighed down with a heavy cargo of sadness. One day, she found herself on a cliff edge with her heart screaming in her throat.

The water was still. A jewelled sheet of glass. The sun teased out diamonds on its surface which blinded her momentarily. She blinked and peered into it hopefully, thumbing the pebbles in her blue jean pockets. She had picked the smoothest ones she could find. Eventually, she reached her arms over her head and bent her legs slowly, purposefully, feeling the muscles tauten and engage. Then all of a sudden she sprung into the air with a neat cursive flourish. A small crown of ripples formed around her as her lithe body sliced through the cool icy water. A murmur.

Then it was still again.

With a dissonant heartbeat she had unlocked the secrets to the horizon; the place where the sky meets the surface of the sea. She swam, tugging herself down through the fickle currents which taunted her and tried to push her away. Finally she reached the abyss, where all around her was thick and velvet with profundity. There was no more after this — she had found the end — and she gasped, clamouring for air as her lungs filled up with water. But there was none.

As she drifted, one sly little current came across her and carried her to a place where seven dragons breathed the fire of eternal life. They had lived for thousands of years these dragons, undisturbed and peaceful, nestled in an underwater cave. The current left her at the entrance to the cave where her body settled on the sandy surface and then the jittery little thing swam off, restless to be away.

When the dragons awoke and saw her they were afraid, for they knew she was a sign.

Still, they could not reject a gift from the sea, so they took her in and tended to her, breathing life into her lungs with their fiery breath. Though they knew that this life would be their end and the knowledge of this made them weep with anguish. When the girl awoke and found herself tightly coiled in the tail of a dragon she was afraid, but they were so overjoyed to see her alive that they fussed around her, bringing trinkets of emerald sea glass to match her eyes and cockle shells to lace around her pretty neck. Her fears left her and she rejoiced with them in the life that they had breathed into her.

She lived with the dragons for many contented years. She grew to love them and they grew to love her. More than anything though she longed to be like them; she thought her own stumpy limbs awkward and cumbersome. She especially admired their supple tails which could propel them across the sea bed with one flick. She would spend many lazy hours polishing their smooth glistening scales which shimmered like opals and combing their long golden whiskers with her fingers, all the while singing to them a haunting song of the sea which told the story they knew so well.

One day the time came that the current returned to reclaim its gift (they knew it would come), but the dragons couldn’t relinquish her into its arms though it begged and solicited, using all of its powers of persuasion to beseech them to give her up. In the end they said their sad farewells and hugged her and went with the current in the place of the girl. The current wasn’t choosy and it didn’t hang around, scooping up its hefty prize and somersaulting away in one deft sinewed movement (for it had grown strong over the years).

The girl stood alone watching the magnificent creatures disappear into the abyss, one by one, until the very smallest dragon tussled and tugged and managed to struggle free for a brief moment, twisting its head around towards her for one last farewell. She reached her arms up, holding its muzzle in her hands, and gazed into its blazing auric eyes as they both wept for the life they had sacrificed. The dragon’s hot tears mingled with her own and she bathed in their warm salty solace.

At last, the little dragon was dragged back by the querulous current and the girl found herself alone again. But in its last moments it was able to bequeath one last gift to her. The dragon knew how much the girl admired its strong muscular tail and glimmering scales; as it disappeared into the surface it give an almighty shudder which rocked the sea, causing all who lived there to roll and reel about wildly. Then it whipped its tail into a spin, gathering up two passing currents and smacking them off course. Each was convinced the other had provoked them and they lurched towards one another furiously, ready to attack (for currents are burly and fearsome). As they chased each other, full of rancour, they span around snapping at each others’ heels faster and faster, creating a maelstrom which bore down into the centre of the ocean, towards the girl.

The girl was sucked into the vortex and as she too span — a giddy dervish — a cluster of shimmering dragon scales spiralled down through the water towards her like a blossom flurry caught on the wind. She saw them and laughed through her tears, reaching out her hands to touch them as they fell. Each one gleamed and shimmied with a luminescence which lit up the entire sea. The scales pressed against the whorl of her as she span, and span.

‘Goodby fair maiden of the sea!’ the little dragon rumbled out its last breath. And all the dragons roared in agreement, filling up the sea with their thunder.

At last the whirlpool released her, spitting her out onto the seabed where she lay, spent and exhausted. She remained there for several days, a shipwreck adorned with sea shells and silt until a slender crab, disguised as a rock, came across her and pinched her nose, mistaking it for some tasty morsel.

‘Ouch!’ she shouted loudly, annoyed. She had been exploring the watery depths of her dreams where she had found that she had access to things she had not known before: other worlds, new truths, ancient falsehoods. A rich, colourful scene like an underwater reef. She had explored the beauty of drowning. The seduction. The thick, opaque, shimmering allure of it. It all came back to her then, in the blurry gaps of consciousness: the rousing, the falling. She had felt a pleasant fog of sweetness blooming at the very edges of her skull. And in those shifting moments it was hard to tell what was real and what was fantasy.

It didn’t matter; she was not to remain there (after all, she had been there before). She was awake and once more had to teach her heart to beat out a new rhythm.

She tried to bend her legs to propel herself upright but found that she could not; instead she slipped and skidded uselessly on the sand. When she looked down she discovered that her legs had fused into a tail: a glittering dragon’s tail covered in thousands upon thousands of shining scales. She stared in awe, mesmerised by its scintillating brilliance. At first, she was scared. She could not believe the truth her eyes told her. Gradually though she grew braver and began tentatively to caress her new tail, exploring the thrill of its power with her fingers.

She marvelled at it: the way it twisted and turned and glistened; the way it tapered elegantly into a delicate quivering fin. She whipped it this way and that, testing its strength; writhing and tumbling; playfully batting the currents to and fro. Delighted, they responded to her teasing games, jostling with her and falling in love with her instantly (who wouldn’t?). Then, on her request, they carried her back to the dragons’ cave.

But when she arrived there and looked around the empty cave which had once been full of seven splendid, snorting dragons, she felt a shard of loneliness wedge in her heart. Try as she might, she couldn’t shake it free. She found she could no longer bear to remain inside the cave so she swam out and up, up, up, through the sea, her new tail pulsating swiftly through the water. Up towards the horizon. The currents willed her along, gently buoying her upwards with chiffon-light fingers. When she broke the surface she gasped, struggling for breath. She thought for a moment that she might be suffocating, but then her rasping accordion lungs snapped and wheezed into life, squeezing out a small jet of water as they slowly found their familiar ebb and flow.

The cave narrowed out into a rock which pierced the sky like a jagged knife. The girl grabbed the rock face with her hands and yanked herself up with all of her force, pulling and heaving, until finally she reached the very tip of it. The soft flesh on her palms and belly was shredded into tattered red ribbons by its craggy hull; her glossy scales, fine as fingernails, snagged on its jutting knuckles and scattered confetti showers, spiralling a serpentine trail of stray sea treasures which illuminated the twisting distance — like smiling splinters of the moon — up to her rugged throne.

And to this day she reclines there still, queen of the horizon world, keeping watch for her friends. They call her the fair maiden of the sea with the dragon’s tail and the currents are her willing servants. She sits, polishing her scales, combing her long golden hair with her fingers, singing her sad haunting song for the dragons, and for all who care to listen.

© story by Emily Hughes, 2018

 

I’m afraid I don’t know where the image is from although I have searched for it. It was borrowed from another friend’s page out there in the vast, deep ocean of the internet. I am happy that it found its way to me.

 

 

surf

A one-off commission I created for a special surf-loving couple of the Welsh coastline near Bridgend. I overlaid textures from the rocks and cliffs nearby to give a feel of the local landscape.

surf

 

© images and words Emily Hughes, 2015

 

 

little fishing boat

little fishing boat

 

This image was inspired by a recent trip to the lovely harbour of Lyme Regis. I pegged the boat shot, and when I got it I visualised immediately how I wanted it to turn out, so I was excited to get home and work on it. I’m really pleased with the result. A few people have asked me how I achieve the layering effect. I may try to write another post explaining in more detail when I have more time, but in essence I use Photoshop to layer up the images and then I work on each layer, effectively ‘painting’ parts in and out of the image to achieve the effect I want. It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it, but I find it a very rewarding and creative process. You also have to make sure you start off with a really strong image which is well composed. This way it will carry the layers much more successfully.

 

© images and content Emily Hughes, 2014

Beach days (III)

 

beach days - Sidmouth #3

Beach days #4

beach days - Sidmouth #2

Beach days #5

 

I’ve been working on this beach series for the past couple of months. I started work on it because a gallery owner local to West Kirby (where I grew up) liked some of my layered work, but wanted something coastal. I’ve struggled with naming them, though (it’s always a problem!), because even though they are all from very specific locations, they are deliberately quite abstract.

For me, working with layers give me greater freedom to explore the local environment: the texture, colour, form and atmosphere of the landscape, and (hopefully) create something fresh and new, which is at the same time recognisable to its particular location.

These two images are from Sidmouth, which is a place we visit often as a family because my dad and step mum live there. The children love the beach, and searching for crabs in the rock pools.

You can find the whole series so far on my website, or in my artfinder shop.

 

© images and content Emily Hughes, 2014

beach days (II)

beach days #4

 

beach days #3

© images and content Emily Hughes, 2014

Beach days

20130811-P1140566beach days 2beach days 3beach days 4beach days 5

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013

Coherence

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The sky drops right down to the sea, and shears a perfect horizon at the edge of the world where the air meets salt water. The sea exhales, lilting undulant murmurs which curl and crease up to a wrinkle and then smooth again in turn. Rise and fall. As regular and certain as the breath, as the expanding and contracting of the lungs.

The sun flickers and wanes. A light bulb going out. It skips and glints across the frothy tips.

It’s always there, and always to be found. Once it has found you, and you have absorbed its salted sweet essence it will seep into a chamber of your heart and never leave. You will always be able to find it there, when you need it.

And you will always come back for more.

*****

© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013

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