Belinda Smith's outline of a shrimp run in Melbourne, entitled 'shrimply the best'

‘Shrimply the best’: Meet the ‘GPS artist’ who plays one animal prick at a time

Belinda Smith often begins her runs with a “round piece of anatomy.”

“It could be an eye or maybe an ass,” he says.

Because most of her animals are drawn as outlines, she begins and ends her run at the same location on the map.

“So it makes sense for the start / finish to be a dot,” he adds.

Smith’s drawings often begin or end with a round piece of anatomy represented by a dot. In this case, it’s an elephant’s eye.

Smith, who is an ABC journalist, is a casual GPS artist.

In 2013, she trained for a half marathon by running 20 km. As she walked the same route every day, she became “intensely bored.”

“I was just looking at the map and thinking, ‘Where can I go?'” Smith says.

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“So I did it and started it, and that’s where it started.”

In 2013, Smith never heard the term “GPS art.”

But by running a “cat” while connected to an application called Diet, she unknowingly engaged in a specialized hobby, sometimes also called “Diet Art.”

“Diet art” refers to the Diet application, which Smith uses to visually “map” her movements as she runs, often in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.

According to the title of her blog – animal pun running – Smith draws her routes in the shape of various animals before signing them with a funny prank.

However, as she further found out, there was a global community of “artists” who did the same. Most ride their routes, but there are some like Smith who run.

Now, almost ten years later, she has completed more than 75 animals in countries around the world.

Some notable examples include Dane Swan of Copenhagen, Manrattan of Manhattan and Polar Berlin.

A drawing of Belinda Smith's rats in Manhattan called
Smith has completed GPS artwork around the world, including this one called Manrattan in Manhattan, USA. (Added by: Belinda Smith)

Smith says she originally started running because of his mental health benefits.

But embarking on animal runs meant engaging the more creative side of the brain during exercise.

“I’m not an artist,” says Smith.

Smith also draws joy from the process of joining the animal.

“It’s the feeling of satisfaction when you turn the corner and say, ooh, it’s a hoof or something [else]. You can kind of see how it shapes in your mind when you do it, ”he says.

The outline of a brontosaurus,
Smith’s run through the northern suburbs of Melbourne created this image called Brontosaurun. (Added by: Belinda Smith)

“And then when you’re done, it’s like, ‘It’s a horse! I just ran a horse!'”

In addition to making it difficult to compile an image to run, Smith also has some specific rules that make her job even more difficult.

First, she leaves the GPS on for the duration of the run, which means she can’t deviate from the path she planned – not even because of drinking water.

“I don’t like running things [like a water bottle]if I don’t have to, so it can be a little more complicated, “he says.

Outline of Belinda Smith's rabbit called
This image is called Hop to It. (Added by: Belinda Smith)

“I often look for churches because they have water taps outside. Or sometimes there’s a hose in front of the block of flats, so I sneak in.”

It also uses the National Public Toilet Map to find public toilets on its route.

And in some cases, they have to go through dead ends or obstacles.

Belinda Smith takes a selfie at her Glasgow apartment, dressed in running gear and a hat
Smith seldom carries anything with her as she runs, instead stopping for water breaks along her route. (Added by: Belinda Smith)

When Smith is at home in Australia, she sticks to her own neighborhood rather than traveling to another part of the city.

“Something needs to be said about restrictions,” he says.

“It will make you a little more creative if you only have such a large screen.

“Otherwise you may feel a little overwhelmed by all the potential places to go.

“In addition, in the northern suburbs, most streets are parallel or perpendicular, so it’s quite easy to create these recognizable shapes.”

“I’ve seen more places in Melbourne than a few locals”

Pravin Xeona poses on a bike in front of local trees, wearing a pink lycra vest, black pants and boots
Xin’s rules create the art of GPS by riding a bike, rather than running. (Supplied: Pravin Xeona)

Pravin Xeona, 29, is another GPS artist from Melbourne.

Hailing from Kerala, India, he came to Australia for a master’s degree in IT a few years ago. He now works as a front-end developer and lives in CBD.

Like most GPS artists, Mr. Xeona is a cyclist. He came across this concept on a YouTube channel.

“I thought, ‘I could do this, it’s something that keeps me healthy, but it’s also creative,’ he says.

The first thing he “drew” was the Batman logo. While his “masterpiece,” he says, is a kangaroo.

Drawing of Kangaroo Pravina Xeona in Brunswick, Melbourne
Mr. Xeona’s kangaroo, whom he calls his masterpiece, shared an account on ABC Melbourne’s social networks. (Supplied: Pravin Xeona)

“Everyone liked it and appreciated it,” he says, adding that the picture was shared by the ABC Melbourne team on social media.

Somewhat controversially, Mr. Xeona uses a different method than Smith to compose his works of art. While Smith never turns off his GPS, Mr. Xeona uses the “stop, start” method to complete his shots.

GPS artwork by Maria Pravina Xeona, painted with Paint
Mr. Xeona used a computer to color this work of Mario.(Supplied: Pravin Xeona)

“If you need a straight line, it’s not like you’ll always find a route that looks exactly like the picture,” he explains.

“So if there’s no road or a way to get where I want to go, I’ll stop the GPS at one point and then start driving at another point. The app will then draw a straight line.”

Mr. Xeona laughs when asked if others think it’s “cheating.”

“Some people say that,” he says.

“And it makes some sense. At first I used it excessively because I wanted to get the perfect picture, but I saw other people making really good pictures without doing it at all, so I thought maybe I should reduce how much I use.”

Compared to Smith, Mr. Xeona likes to use as much of Melbourne as possible for his “canvas”. He even created a thermal map that shows all the places that passed through the city by bike.

An image of all the routes that Pravin Xeona has cycled in Melbourne - which shows the routes in all directions
This map shows the various routes that Mr Xeona has cycled around Melbourne. (Supplied: Pravin Xeona)

“That’s why I like cycling so much. I don’t know if I’m bluffing, but I think I’ve seen more places in Melbourne than a few locals.”

And while stuck in Melbourne within a five-kilometer block, he says the art of GPS “kept him sane.”

He even created a work of art called Get Jabbed to promote vaccination.

Xin's Rules is Get Jabbed GPS artwork in Melbourne CBD
Mr. Xeona created his artwork Get Jabbed during a lock in Melbourne. (Supplied: Pravin Xeona)

“I couldn’t meet any of my friends during that time or go out, so I spent a lot of time planning [routes] or just looking at other people’s artwork for inspiration, ”he says.

He also addressed other GPS artists around the world, including Christian Ohantel, based in Munich, Germany.

The pair decided to work together on a project where Ohantel dinga ding for Mr. Xeon and Mr. Xeon drew an eagle for Ohantel.

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“I’ve done a few of these collaborations,” says Mr. Xeona.

Mr. Xeona is so passionate about this hobby that he decided to post his pictures on Reddit to encourage others to take up.

“Whenever I post a picture on Reddit, people ask: How did you do it? “What kind of application did you use?” So I always try to give a detailed explanation.

“That’s one thing I love about it: it connects you to a lot of people.”

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