Create while you perspirate: why GPS drawing is the ultimate lockdown artform!


Jan 17,2021


In previous blogs, we’ve written about how technology has helped to create a new kind of art canvas. The advent of LCD screens has given birth to an incredible array of options for digital artists, and looks set to continue to inspire creators to ever more impressive feats of artistry. 

But what if you could use your own surroundings as a canvas? 

This is the intriguing idea embraced by a new wave of GPS drawers, who utilise location technology through running app Strava, to create recognisable shapes and designs from their own movements. 

The very first GPS drawing was created back in 1999, when a sailboat traversed a 5,500 mile stretch of ocean and described the outline of a turtle. Without access to modern technology, this early version was recorded in old-school logbooks, and offered a disappointingly low-resolution image, which wasn’t helped by the fact that a hurricane blew them off course for the return leg. 

The new generation of GPS drawers, while preferring the safety and security of terra firma to adventurous marine expeditions, have been inspired by two human necessities, which have been brought to the fore during lockdown: the need to stay fit, and the need to create. Using their mobile phone or fitness tracking device as something of a paintbrush, they trace shapes onto a city map using their own movements, and - if they have sufficiently accurate navigational skills - end up with a recognisable portrait. 

One popular exponent of this form is Nathan Rae, whose website contains some incredible examples. With themes ranging from Christmas to rock band Queen (which includes iconography such as a bicycle, a vacuum cleaner, and even an impressively accurate image of Freddie Mercury himself), his ultra-marathon running combined with a creative streak provide the perfect combination of skills for these pieces. 

Describing his process online, Rae writes: “GPS Drawing may sound simple, and it can be if you have an overdeveloped pareidolia, see a picture on a map and run, cycle, drive or swim the route.

But if you want to create a specific image, like a map, flag, or recognisable celebrity, for example it becomes exponentially harder the more detail you add as canals, motorways, shopping malls and football stadiums get in the way.

To help me get around this I’ve developed a style where I draw the whole image, then strategically remove lines until it is more impressionistic  leaving the viewer to fill in the full picture.  A good example is the Freddie Mercury “Rage Pose Meme” drawing, Santa and Pig.”

If GPS art sounds like a great way to create art while staying fit, then why not get involved yourself? All you’ll need is your phone, with a location tracking app installed, and a built-up city or town to run through, which can provide all the necessary lines needed to create your masterpiece. 

If you have some creations you’d like to send to us, please submit them to [email protected] and we’ll feature them in our next SmartArt blog!




By Richard Oxley



  • GPS
  • Drawing
  • ArtForm
  • Exercise
  • Maps
  • Amazing

Ready for a free, 14-day test run?

let’s go