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Runners and Cyclists Use GPS Mapping to Make Art


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

On an April day 357 years later, Janine Strong slowed her bike to stop, paused her fitness app, and watched because the snaking line of her cycling route drew the form of Vermeer’s masterpiece over the streets of Brooklyn.

Ms. Strong creates what has come to be often called “GPS art” — a practice that uses the Global Positioning System mapping capabilities of recent phone apps like Strava to create digital drawings using an athlete’s route across the landscape.

As an alternative of biking on a straight path or in circles around a park, Ms. Strong plans her rides within the shapes of birthday cakes, stars, birds, lions — and the occasional Vermeer.

The hobby has grown with the widespread availability of satellite tracking to be used by unusual people, in fitness apps like Nike Run Club or MapMyRide. It is especially popular on Strava and also known as “Strava art.”

Strava art has existed since that app’s release in 2009, however it experienced a surge in use in the course of the pandemic. In accordance with Michael Joseph, a senior communications manager at the corporate, greater than three billion activities have been uploaded to Strava for the reason that starting of 2020.

To finish her digital vision of “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” Ms. Strong biked almost 50 miles around southern Brooklyn, fastidiously checking Strava to ensure each turn, circle, and straightaway was achieving the enduring earring and head covering of Vermeer’s original.

“I at all times have a giant smile on my face when it really works out and I upload it and it’s done,” she said. “It’s a really satisfying feeling.”

The thought has been around since before widespread use of smartphones for fitness. In 2003, The Recent York Times Magazine “12 months in Ideas” issue told of how Jeremy Wood and Hugh Pryor used Garmin GPS devices that looked like walkie-talkies to trace routes resembling butterflies and fish on walks through the English countryside.

“It’s not only walking; you’ve got to be this device,” Mr. Pryor said in a recent interview. “People at all times wonder what you’re doing.”

Mr. Wood said he got the concept for GPS art while he was using a GPS tracker on a flight and the plane flew in a holding pattern above Heathrow Airport. He was captivated by the pattern appearing on his Garmin.

“It formed this most beautiful oval shape, and it was higher than I could draw by hand,” Mr. Wood said. “That’s after I made a connection: You can use one’s movements to make marks in space.”

Mr. Pryor, a classmate of Mr. Wood’s, needed to develop software to get the GPS points off the Garmin and onto a pc, turning the info into drawings. Within the years since, technology has advanced enough to create visual maps in real time using a phone or smart watch.

Steve Lloyd, Strava’s chief product and technology officer, said in an email that increased usage of GPS devices has resulted in additional detailed maps, which has improved the standard and complexity of the art.

The practice has spread from the fields of Oxfordshire in England to the sand dunes of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. Gustavo Lyra has run around Rio Grande within the image of John Lennon’s face and spent almost nine hours running a route for his daughter’s fifth birthday. It was a picture of Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen.”

“I get bored running on the identical path in the identical streets,” Mr. Lyra said via Instagram, where he posts maps of his runs.

Gene Lu, who lives in Recent Jersey, began creating GPS art when he became a fan of the “Game of Thrones” TV series in 2013. He ran the form of the family crests from this system, often called “sigils.” Mr. Lu said that connecting his runs to a favourite TV show gave him more reasons to hit the pavement.

“It makes running so much easier,” he said.

Lenny Maughan, who refers to himself as a “human Etch A Sketch,” also started off making map art tied to popular culture. Leonard Nimoy — Mr. Spock in the unique “Star Trek” — had just died in 2015, and Mr. Maughan decided to pay him tribute.

“I believed perhaps a hand would work, that it could align with the streets, especially the grid pattern of streets here in San Francisco,” Mr. Maughan said. “So I believed, OK, I’m going to do the Vulcan salute.”

The art form even has its own Guinness World Records categories. The Guardian profiled a pair who accomplished a 4,500-mile bike ride across Europe (while blogging the journey) that resulted in a 600-mile-wide GPS drawing of a bicycle — the most important such drawing on record, in accordance with The Guardian.

Each creator uses a rather different process. Mr. Lu prints out physical maps and sketches his planned route on them. Mr. Maughan uses Photoshop to place his onto a map, after which transfers the file to his Kindle, which he refers to while running.

Ms. Strong said she is going to see if the lines of a map encourage something. For instance, on a visit to Cape Cod she noticed certain streets formed the form of a shark tail, and took it from there.

The artists have one major obstacle: cemeteries. Some graveyards have rules against running and biking that may’t at all times be foreseen. Each Mr. Lu and Ms. Strong almost had ambitious projects stymied by such rules. He found a sympathetic groundskeeper who allowed him to finish his run. She had to desert her bike and complete her image on foot.

For Mr. Lu, the unexpected is a component of the sweetness.

“The crazy thing is that you just kind of don’t know where the map takes you; you only go along with it,” Mr. Lu said. “I at all times find yourself with what I’m on the lookout for.”

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