Runners and cyclists use GPS mapping to make art

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Thursday, June 20, 2024

Runners and cyclists use GPS mapping to make art
Mr. Maughan’s Instagram with a collection of his GPS art. Photo: Lenny Maughan.

by Claire Fahy

NEW YORK, NY.- 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 as the snaking line of her cycling route drew the shape of Vermeer’s masterpiece over the streets of Brooklyn, New York.

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

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

The hobby has grown with the widespread availability of satellite tracking for use by ordinary people, in fitness apps such as Nike Run Club or MapMyRide. It is particularly popular on Strava and often referred to as “Strava art.” Strava art has existed since that app’s release in 2009, but it experienced a surge in use during the pandemic.

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

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

The idea has been around since before widespread use of smartphones for fitness. In 2003, The New York Times Magazine “Year 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 just walking; you’ve got to be looking at this device,” Pryor said. “People always wonder what you’re doing.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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