A Chat with Strava Artist Gary Cordery About GPS Art and How It’s Made
I’ve been semi-aware of “Strava art” for some time. It’s popped up on social media feeds from occasionally and I thought it was cool, but that it was just something of a kooky experiment. But then I discovered the amazing collection of GPS artwork on strav.art and I then realised just how popular it is becoming.
So, I got in touch with the creator of the website, Gary Cordery – a talented Strava artist himself – to learn more about the world of Strava art. He told me more about Strava art, as well as showing me some of the best pieces of Strava artwork by the best Strava artists and even how on earth you go about creating Strava art.
What is Strava Art (AKA ‘Cycling GPS Art’)?
“Strava Art is the art of planning and drawing an image on a map by recording your activity on a GPS unit and then uploading that activity to Strava,” explained Gary.
“It can be made by doing any physical exercise from walking to ice-biking. An aircraft even did some the other day! I think people create Strava Art to add another dimension to their exercises by combining art with exercise to incentivise their training and to create messages – strav.art has been inundated with Covid/NHS art lately!
“I think the combination of being a cyclist, map-maker and graphic designer naturally drew me towards Strava Art. I’d seen some art pop up on Strava in the past and thought I could create an online gallery to house all these works. Little did I know how much art there was actually out there and how much it has exploded this year! But it’s a great little hobby to have and I always find an hour in the day to update the site.”
This “little hobby” though is starting to become quite a big deal. In October, Gary created one of the most famous pieces of Strava art ever, after adapting the work of Russian painter, Dmitri Vrubel, to recreate the “Bruderkuss” to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Strava Art – Berlin Wall Anniversary: Bruderkuss
Gary had to cycle for nearly 15 hours, covering a distance of 225km around Berlin in order to create the piece. In reality, though, the piece actually took 48 hours, 54 minutes and 32 seconds to create in lapsed (i.e. real) time.
I also spoke to Gary to ask him about just how he managed to create such an epic piece and indeed how the idea came about.
“Strava Germany found me on Google and contacted me to see if I could create an image of the iconic socialist fraternal kiss between Gorbachev and Honecker around the streets of Berlin. It was August 2019 and they needed it done by early November to coincide with the 30th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“I began by tracing the image in Adobe Illustrator and placing it over a map of Berlin to see if any roads matched the image. It was obvious I could never do this by pressing start on my Wahoo and pressing stop at the end, the road layout wouldn’t allow this. I would need to do the ‘start/pause/stop’ technique to create the image using straight lines.
“To create a straight line, I had to press start on the unit then immediately pause it, cycle to my destination, unpause it, save it. When uploaded to Strava this would create a straight line between the start and finish. I would now have to create about 240 separate routes using Strava’s Route Builder to build the image and all routes would need to be cycled in numerical order. Once all routes have been saved you then need to upload them to another website which combines them all into one activity.
“Then you can upload to Strava. The artwork and routes took a week to create. I then went on a recon to Berlin to see if where I had plotted my keypoints was accessible. The following weekend I came back and rode the artwork over 2 days, taking 15 hours and 225kms.”
Piece of cake then… but how do you even find yourself in the world of Strava art?
“I think the first piece of GPS art I saw was by Strava Art legend, Stephen Lund. The Strava activity was called ‘Muscle-bound thug in a fedora riding a grizzly bear wearing a pork pie hat and standing in a snowbank’. Just the title made me sit up and take notice! Stephen has even given a TEDx Talks on YouTube about his art…
Best Strava Artists
As well as Stephen Lund, Gary has a few other favourites pieces of Strava art, as well as some favourite artists, including:
How to Create Strava Art on a Bike
“So, there are three ways to create Strava art. The hardest is, as detailed above for the Bruderkuss, the start/pause/stop’ technique and these can take a week or two to artwork and execute.
“The easiest way is what I did for my NHS tribute (below). You basically choose a nice open area of parkland and go into Strava Route Builder and draw your design there, then follow the chevrons (wahoo) or biscuit crumb trail (Garmin). You can create these in a day.
“The third option is to look at a map of your area and try to visualise an image that follows the roads, so no stop/starting the GPS, just let it run… again plot this in the Route Builder. This does take a few days, though”.
Finally, I asked Gary what he felt the future held for Strava art.
“I can only see Strava Art getting more and more popular as people seek ways to make their exercise routines more interesting or to send out topical messages,” he said.
“strav.art currently has over 10,000 visits per month, which is something I could never have imagined when I began this in July 2018. I’m always thinking of ways to make the site more engaging, such as voting for art/artist of the month and competitions. But at the moment I’m still constantly updating the site with new art (there are over 1,100 pieces and counting). As long as people keep creating, I’ll keep running the site.”
Many thanks to Gary for taking the time to answer my questions. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Strava art.
COMMENT BELOW: What are your favourite pieces of Strava art? And, what would be your dream creation?