Creating city-sized art with Strava
Strava: Run & Ride Training
Activity & distance tracker
For most artists, a canvas, sheet of paper or iPad is the base for their work. But then Stephen Lund isn’t your typical artist.
Instead, the Canadian uses his hometown of Victoria as his canvas – his bicycle, iPhone and favourite app Strava allow him to draw city-sized images.
Introduced to the GPS-utilising, cycle-tracking app during the summer of 2014, Lund quickly became hooked on monitoring all aspects of his rides. Unlike the app’s millions of other users, however, he saw a creative outlet in this map-highlighting route tracker.
“The more I looked at this red line the more I thought there was some creative fun that could be had,” he tells us. “New Year’s Eve 2014, I was thinking about my morning ride and thought ‘why don’t I see if I can try and write something on the streets?’. I wrote ‘Happy 2015!’”
Having carefully planned his route on a physical map, Lund set out on his bike using Strava to overlay a digital route line on the underlying city. Since that admittedly clumsy first attempt, his images have become considerably larger and more ambitious.
With more than 300 Strava-based works now under his belt – requiring an average of 70 kilometres of cycling each – Lund has sought innovative new ways to create these images.
“Early on I highlighted all the main roads on a map and it turned up this patchwork quilt of shapes that in certain spots came together and created inspiration for images,” he explains.
“When I had highlighted the roads, a giraffe just jumped right out of the map, you couldn’t miss it. It’s so cool that that was right there in the streets of Victoria from the very beginning but nobody else had ever seen it.”
“Now I plan out a route on a map in photoshop and save it as a PDF to my iPhone. I will then stop periodically to make sure I’m on the right course.”
Despite his growing confidence and ever more complex designs, Lund’s adventures in Strava-based artworks haven’t been issue free.
“I learnt in the early days that GPS tracking doesn’t come with an eraser. The first image I really botched, I was about 30 kilometres into this drawing when I lost my bearings, took a couple of wrong turns and realised I had ruined the image.”
“I rode back to the starting point and began all over again. You don’t have to do that more than a couple of times before you learn your lesson.”
And missed turnings aren’t the only issue faced when creating images that can encompass more than a billion square feet.
“One of the big challenges with GPS art is that roads don’t always cooperate. Sometimes you come up against an obstacle that’s right in the middle of where you want to go. I found a workaround where I can pause Strava on one side of the obstacle, take the long route around to the other side, restart it and the app connects that line straight through the building.”
“I’ve had a few people comment that that is a bit of a cheat, but to that I say it’s no more of a cheat than a photographer using Photoshop. When you’re creating art, you innovate and do things to experiment.”
“And as I started to do more, I realised this wasn’t just about creating cool pictures, it was about urban exploration. It’s a journey in problem solving, finding a route and roads that I can use to complete a picture that I have in my mind.
“If this inspires more people to get active, explore their cities and have fun doing exercise, I think that’s wonderful.”