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Runners and cyclists create art using GPS mapping

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In 1665, Johannes Vermeer dropped the last drop of paint onto canvas in his Dutch atelier to complete his masterpiece Girl with a Pearl Earring.

357 years later, one day in April, Janine Strong slowed her bike to a halt and paused her fitness app. Cycling saw the winding lines of his route trace the shapes of Vermeer’s masterpieces on the streets of Brooklyn.

Mr. Strong creates what has come to be known as “GPS art.” This is a technique that uses the global positioning system his mapping capabilities of modern phone apps such as Strava to create a digital drawing of him using the athlete’s route across the landscape.

Instead of straight roads and circles around the park, Strong plans rides in the shape of birthday cakes, stars, birds, lions and the occasional Vermeer.

This hobby has grown with the widespread availability of satellite tracking for use by the general public in fitness apps such as Nike Run Club and MapMyRide. It is especially popular on Strava and is often referred to as “Strava Art”.

Strava art has been around since the app’s release in 2009, but usage skyrocketed during the pandemic. More than 3 billion activities have been uploaded to his Strava since early 2020, according to Michael Joseph, senior communications manager at the company.

To complete his digital vision of “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” Strong cycled around 50 miles south of Brooklyn and carefully checked Strava for Vermeer’s original and iconic earrings and head cover. I have confirmed that

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

This idea existed before smartphones were widely used for fitness. In 2003, in the “Year in Ideas” issue of The New York Times Magazine, Jeremy Wood and Hugh Pryor used walkie-talkie-like Garmin GPS devices to follow paths resembling butterflies and fish as they strolled through the English countryside. was introduced.

Not just walking. Pryor said in a recent interview. “People always wonder what you do.”

Wood said he got the idea for the GPS art while using a GPS tracker on an airplane and when the plane was flying in a holding pattern over Heathrow Airport. He was fascinated by the patterns displayed on his Garmin.

“It formed this most beautiful oval shape, and it was better than I could draw by hand,” Wood said. I was able to make a mark.”

Wood’s classmate, Pryor, had to develop software that would take the GPS points from the Garmin, put them into a computer, and convert the data into a drawing. Since then, technology has advanced enough to allow you to create visual his maps in real time using your phone or smart his watch.

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

The practice stretches from the fields of Oxfordshire in England to the dunes of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. Gustavo Laira ran around the Rio Grande in the image of John Lennon’s face and ran the route for his daughter’s 5th birthday in almost nine hours. It was an image of Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen”.

“I get bored of driving the same road on the same street,” Laila said on Instagram. I am posting a map of the run.

New Jersey resident Gene Lu started making GPS art in 2013 when he became a fan of the “Game of Thrones” TV series. He drew the shape of the show’s family crest known as the “Sigil”. Lu said linking running to her favorite TV show gave her more reasons to run on the pavement.

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

Lenny Maughan, who calls himself a “Human Etch A Sketch,” also started making map art tied to pop culture. Leonard Nimoy (the original “Star Trek” Mr. Spock) had just passed away in 2015, and Mr. Morgan decided to pay tribute to him.

“I wondered if the hand would move to match the grid pattern of the streets, especially here in San Francisco,” Morgan said. “So, OK, I thought I’d do the Vulcan salute.”

This art form also has its own Guinness World Records category. The Guardian profiled a couple who traversed Europe on his 4,500 miles (4,500 miles) bike (while blogging about the trip) and completed his GPS painting of a 600 miles (600 miles) wide bike. .

Each creator uses a slightly different process. Lu prints the physical map and sketches the planned route on it. Maughan uses his Photoshop to create his maps and transfers the files to his Kindle for reference on the go.

Ms. Strong said she’ll see if the lines on the map inspire anything. For example, when she visited Cape Cod, she noticed that certain streets were shaped like shark tails, which she took from.

There is one big obstacle for artists. It’s a cemetery. Some cemeteries have rules for running and biking that aren’t always predictable. Both Lou and Strong’s ambitious projects were mostly hampered by such rules. He found a sympathetic groundskeeper and allowed him to complete his run, she had to ditch her bike and complete the image on foot.

For Lou, the unexpected is also part of the beauty.

“The funny thing is you don’t know where the map will take you. You just follow it,” Lu said. “I always get what I’m looking for.”