Runners and cyclists use GPS maps to make art

In 1665, Johannes Vermeer dabbed the last drop of paint on a canvas in his Dutch studio, completing his masterpiece “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.

One April day 357 years later, Janine Strong slowed down her bike to a stop, paused her fitness app, and watched as her bike path took the shape of Vermeer’s masterpiece on the streets of Brooklyn.

Strong creates what is known as “GPS art” – a hands-on method that uses the Global Positioning System mapping capabilities of modern phone apps like Strava to create technical drawings. digitally using an athlete’s route across the landscape.

Instead of cycling the straight path or around the park, Ms Strong plans to ride birthday cakes shaped like birthday cakes, stars, birds, lions – and the occasional Vermeer.

The hobby has grown with the widespread popularity of satellite tracking for the average person, in fitness apps like Nike Run Club or MapMyRide. It is especially popular on Strava and is often referred to as “strava art”.

Strava Art has existed since that app was released in 2009, but it has experienced a surge in usage during the pandemic. According to Michael Joseph, the company’s senior communications director, more than three billion activities have been uploaded to Strava since the start of 2020.

To fulfill her digital vision of “The Girl with the Pearl Earring,” Ms. Strong cycled nearly 50 miles around south Brooklyn, carefully checking Strava to make sure every turn, circle and Straight lines achieve Vermeer’s iconic earring and original headpiece.

“I always have a big smile on my face when it works and I upload it and it’s done,” she said. “It’s a very gratifying feeling.”

This idea has been around since before smartphones were widely used for exercise. In 2003, The New York Times Magazine “Year in ideas” The issue follows how Jeremy Wood and Hugh Pryor use a Garmin GPS device that looks like a walkie-talkie to follow routes like butterflies and fish while walking through the English countryside.

“It’s not just walking; you have to look at this device,” Mr. Pryor said in a recent interview. “People always wonder what you’re doing.”

Mr. Wood said he got the idea for the art of GPS while using a GPS tracker on a flight and the plane flying in a hold mode above Heathrow Airport. He was captivated by the pattern that appeared on his Garmin.

Mr Wood said: ‘It makes this the most beautiful oval, and it’s better than I can draw by hand. “That’s when I make a connection: You can use a person’s movement to make a mark in space.”

Mr. Pryor, a classmate of Mr. Wood’s, had to develop software to get GPS points out of the Garmin and into the computer, turning the data into drawings. In the years since, the technology has advanced enough to create visual maps in real time using a phone or smartwatch.

Steve Lloyd, Strava’s director of product and technology, said in an email that increased use of GPS devices has resulted in the creation of more detailed maps, which has improved quality and complexity. complexity of art.

The practice has spread from the fields of Oxfordshire in England to the sand dunes of the Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. Gustavo Lyra ran around the Rio Grande in the face of John Lennon and spent nearly 9 hours running a track for his daughter’s fifth birthday. That is the image of Elsa in the Disney movie “Frozen”.

“I get bored running on the same road on the same streets,” Mr. Lyra said Instagramwhere he posts a map of his runs.

Gene Lu, who lives in New Jersey, started creating GPS artwork when he became a fan of the TV series “Game of Thrones” in 2013. He created the crests from the show, called. to be “Signal.” Lu says connecting his runs with a favorite TV show has given him more of a reason to go down the sidewalk.

“It makes running a lot easier,” he said.

Lenny Maughan, who calls himself “The Sketcher,” also started making cartographic art relevant to pop culture. Leonard Nimoy – Mr. Spock in the original “Star Trek” – passed away in 2015 and Mr. Maughan decided to pay his respects.

“I thought maybe a hand would work, it would fit the streets, especially the grid pattern of the streets in San Francisco,” Mr. Maughan said. “So I thought, OK, I’ll do the Vulcan salute.”

This art form even has its own Guinness World Records categories. Guardians profile a couple who completed a 4,500-mile bike ride across Europe (while blogging journey) resulted in a 600-mile-wide GPS drawing of a bicycle – the largest on record, according to The Guardian.

Each creator uses a slightly different process. Mr. Lu prints out physical maps and outlines his projected route on them. Mr. Maughan uses Photoshop to put his file on the map, then transfers it to his Kindle, which he refers to while running.

Ms. Strong said she will see if the lines on the map inspire something. For example, during a visit to Cape Cod, she noticed that certain streets were shaped like shark tails, and take it from there.

Artists have one big obstacle: cemeteries. Some cemeteries have anti-running and cycling regulations that you can’t always anticipate. Both Mr. Lu and Mrs. Strong almost have ambitious projects thwarted by such rules. He found a sympathetic yardkeeper who allowed him to complete his run. She had to ditch her bike and complete her image by walking.

For Mr. Lu, the unexpected is part of the beauty.

“The crazy thing is you don’t know where the map will take you; you just go with it,” said Mr. Lu. “I always end up with what I’m looking for.”

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