Shadow Cartography

Alas, the awaited! What IS Shadow Cartography?

There are many parts/levels to this term I’d like to cover, while uncovering its meaning.

Disclaimer: Before you read onward, please note – I am a Dancer/Movement Artist, with a degree in Transpersonal Psychology, training as a Transformational Life coach, and heir to an age-old maternal family tradition [a favorite of one of my predecessors and maternal ancestors]. My concepts and way of thinking are not mainstream and may cause you to become a bit confused, uncomfortable, curious, may spark the process of inner inquiry, and could possibly change your way of thinking or internal process. You are responsible and accountable for your reactions, actions and responses.


The first part is defining the words that make up the term: Shadow and Cartography. We will take a look at a few definitions that resonate with each word, for the purposes of understanding the creation of this term.

Shadow: a slight suggestion; trace; a hint or faint, indistinct image or idea; intimation; a reflected image; to represent faintly, prophetically, etc; a dark image or shape cast on a surface by the interception of light rays by an opaque body.

Cartography: the production of maps, including construction of projections, design, compilation, drafting, and reproduction; the art, technique, or practice of compiling or drawing maps or charts.

Simply put, Shadow Cartography is the process of bringing into form one’s inner environment [inner landscaping] through the use of simple movement, breath, and space.

Now on to the second part – an explanation of the ‘process’:

To prevent the influences of cultural conditioning in the creation of one’s inner landscape, the only form used is the simplest one of all: the state and varied form of points in space [dots, lines]. Glancing at the earliest creations of my work, one may say it looks similar to Middle Eastern calligraphy or written language. I am very proud to state that I was NOT influenced by any form of written language. It grew out of the artwork that I have been doing, on and off, for the past two years. A few of these will be posted in my gallery.

Why the use of lines and dots, versus images, words, and specific shapes?

All movement and all things begin first with an impulse; an impulse to ‘do’ or to ‘be’. That impulse is then transformed into: thoughts, feelings, emotions, physical movement. In our process of creating, we tend to draw from our interpretation of Life/our experiences. Something ‘comes up’ [that’s the impulse] and we translate it using our definition of feelings or emotions. Or they are translated into a thought or the ‘desire’ to move [movement or dance step]. These are the many [and perhaps solid] ways of expression. Shadow Cartography utilizes the process of NOT translating the impulse based on our ‘cultural conditioning’ and encourages the use of listening, openness, and being present to what’s ‘come up’.

Quite simply: Don’t put a name to the impulse.


That’s easier said than done for a lot of people…

It’s letting the impulse ‘be’, and then translating it into movement, utilizing the breath as a guide. Here’s an example through the use of words [and I invite you to use your imagination and visualize]: There’s a blank paper in front of me. I have a desire to move, yet I don’t want to use my entire body to translate this impulse. So I use paper and pastels. I pick up a color that resonates with this impulse to move and I allow my hand to simply ‘move’ across the paper. However the lines are drawn, it is drawn. I don’t stop to access what’s being created; I allow it all to be. In the end, I have a finished product that I am sure is as beautiful as the true form of the impulse from within.

Got it?

So what does an impulse look like? It depends on the person experiencing the impulse. The difference between the initial experience and secondary experience is, the first experience is in it’s most natural state, untouched, undefined. Its secondary state is then defined by applying our mind to make sense of what’s ‘come up’. This is where cultural conditioning kicks in to give us a tangible sense of the intangible.

Shadow Cartography bypasses the need to set a definition that we were taught to use, and allows for us to be guided by the impulse using simplicity: dots and lines.

The use of colors, shapes, forms, comes third. Meaning, I don’t try to understand why I chose orange instead of yellow for the first part, and green and brown for the second part. It’s how the vibrational quality of the impulse manifested itself. It came up, I scanned my pastels, orange and brown matched the quality of the impulse. So I used them and wha-la! I’ve got a picture consisting primarily of lines.


What’s up with the breath? I’ve mentioned movement, and space; defined ‘Shadow’ and ‘Cartography’, yet I’ve been using breath to assist in the process.

The breath is something that’s been overlooked by many. I’m not talking about the act of breathing [the inhale and exhale]; I’m talking about the breath itself. Think about that for a few seconds…


Let’s define breath, as best as we can [for the purpose of defining this process]:

Breath – a short pause or rest; The air inhaled and exhaled in respiration; life, energy, or vitality.

I’ve defined the act of breathing, and a philosophical concept of the breath. In this process of creating, I am referring to the philosophical concept of breath. I utilize the breath as a tool of awareness to keep track of my process. Am I truly listening to this impulse and being true to its form, or am I trying to force a creation that fits the aesthetics of illustration, sketching and drawing? I find that if my breath is smooth, fluid and full, I am on the right track – I’m open, clear, and am following the impulse/being guided by it. When I discover that I’ve been holding my breath or it’s become shallow, I realize that I have tried to guide the impulse and create something aesthetically pleasing. The latter always leads to frustration and I give up for a moment to gather myself all over again.

Maybe this is a process some artists use to create their works. That’s great! What’s important to note is, I’m not trying to create an object or subject [or from a foundation of cultural/societal influences]. I’m trying to allow the impulse to create itself.

This is where I like the use of the word “Shadow”. What’s created is not the ‘real’ image of the original. It’s only a copy, an image cast by the one who perceives [me], with the light shining behind the one who perceives [me].


I know an artist’s work is a reflection of their inner landscape; I like to say that, what we envision and create, will always be second to what it truly is or how it truly exists. So what’s created, is quite simply, a Shadow of what truly is [albeit, beautifully expressed]. – Alaya A.D.




shadow. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved March 04, 2012, from website:

cartography. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved March 04, 2012, from website:                                                                                  cartography
1859, from Fr. cartographie, from M.L. carta (see card (n.)) + Fr. -graphie, from Gk. -graphein “to write, to draw.”

breath. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved March 04, 2012, from website:


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