For some of us, the Etch A Sketch is a nostalgic reference. A classic tool where designers bring to life drawings based on the art technique of lineography (drawing without lifting the pen, with the turning of two knobs). Yoga Love Magazine met with the human version of the modern Etch A Sketch, Lenny Maughan. His canvas? San Francisco. His tool? Strava, a running app. His knobs? His legs. Say whaaat!?!
As a street artist, marathon runner, and yogi from the Bay, Lenny has been creating this unique art for over 8 years, bringing his imagination to the pavement and into Strava. Combining his love for running and drawing, Lenny brings joy to the community via his thoughtful and eccentric route sketching. For him, it’s not about the miles, nor the pace, it’s about the joy in the journey and the hitting that FINISH button to see the final piece.
Since his first sketch, “Spock” a Vulcan salute from March 2015, Lenny has been reimagining each stride month after month, consistently. Finding inspiration around him, and inside him to bring smiles through his IG account @lennymaughan. Strategically, planning each creative run, knowing his city in and out, and finding mindful movement in his practice.
We love to hear stories about people that inspire us through their creativity, and what drives their passion. Tell us about yourself.
I’m a longtime resident of San Francisco. I lived in NY as a teenager, and that’s where I started running when I was on the track team in high school. I’m not a record breaker or anything like that, but I love running, and I’ve been doing it all my adult life up to this day. This morning, I did a little 5K around the city.
What got you into running?
It was a persuasive high school gym teacher. I tried out, and I made the cross country track team, and enjoyed that for a couple of years in high school.
Did you fall in love with running?
I’m more about the fun. It makes you feel good, and there’s a high associated with it. That’s what I noticed as a teenager, and that’s what I feel up to today.
How did this combination of running and creating art through routes come to be?
It was about eight years ago when apps started allowing GPS technology to track your movements, and it instantly became popular with runners, walkers, cyclists, and even swimmers – people who move and want to know where they were and what their stats were. So you can see visually what you did. Sometimes those stats would create a shape, by accident, of course, but you can also make them intentional. So I decided to begin with the end in mind and sketch something and see if it turned out exactly how I sketched it. I like to draw, so it’s kind of another way to draw for me.
I did the Vulcan salute as a test, a simple hand gesture, and it was successful. I thought, that’s pretty cool! Then I just started getting these ideas, sketching it out, running it very carefully. And as it turns out, I’m on a streak of doing one a month for many months.
I used to draw as a kid a lot and I noticed this GPS tracking technology, it basically is sketching out a route. And it makes me think so much of the old Etch A Sketch. For the kids out there: An Etch A Sketch is an old toy tablet with two dials on it, and you just turn them to make a line. So you start with one line, you can cross over, you can double back, but you can’t pick it up or move it somewhere else. And the idea is at the end, you have a work of art that you’ve made. It’s challenging, but that’s part of the joy in it.
I love how you connected the old school Etch a Sketch and a modern app. Do you decide to start the app and take off on your run and take your route, or do you have a route in mind? To actually take the time before your run to design, say a Vulcan salute, that takes a lot of time.
It really does. And thank you for acknowledging that because that part is the hardest part of the whole process. There’s a lot of sequences to do along the way, but designing it is a very big challenge. Sometimes it takes me longer to design something than it does to actually run it. But I’m up for the challenge. I’m determined if I have an idea of something, I’ll make it fit somehow. It won’t be perfect, but maybe the variation on it will be part of its charm.
How do you find inspiration for what you want to draw?
I try to stick with things that are timeless that will be just as interesting 10 years from now than they are today. So I get inspiration from either one or two places. I’ll either look at a San Francisco map and something will pop out at me the way the streets are aligned, or I’ll think of a shape in advance and I’ll try to fit it on the map.
That’s very cool because even in San Francisco streets, the elevation is so high, and then you go low, so you are really working.
Yes, it’s a lot of work. Few people acknowledge that third dimension of the elevation. It’s not just a flat one place to another, but it’s up and down. Sometimes it’s up and down and up and down and up and down to accomplish a certain line.
When you decide what you want to sketch, do you test the route before you actually take off or do you map it out and then go for it?
I’ve lived here since 1996, and I run here all the time, so I’m very familiar with the streets and looking at a map, I know what that street is going to look like. So I plot it out on a map in advance very carefully, and I go through many iterations to get it just right. Then I use that as my guide or template when I run and I make very certain to be careful and not make a wrong turn because there’s no undo feature in this thing. I can’t undo the last mile.
Some of these images or creations that you make are like 60, 70, or 80 plus miles worth of time running. How do you do 86 miles? Do you stop along the way?
It’s not a race, so I’m in no hurry. The objective is to follow this path, running or walking fast or whatever as accurately as I can and not quit until it’s done. And for the design to look interesting, it pretty much has to go big. There’s no way around it. I could run around the block and say, hey, there’s Colorado, and that would work, but it would be short, and it wouldn’t be that interesting. So they just have to be big. I don’t design them to be long in miles, they just sometimes happen to be.
I take a lot of breaks, even yoga breaks, and I just pause the app. I pause it and restart, it and carry on from there. And sometimes I do this overnight. I’ll pause, go home, eat, shower, sleep, then go back the next morning to the same spot, resume and carry on.
How do you stick to the goal of finishing the design?
It’s a mental game. So I think about how hard it was to make whatever inspires me. And that seems to keep me on to the finish line, literally.
You mention taking yoga breaks, how else has yoga been a part of your life?
I do yoga every single day, and I do it with joy and with love. I like to do it early if I can, so that I can have the benefits last me the rest of the day, especially if I’m going to do a run afterwards. I find yoga before and after, sometimes just a short session, really helps a lot. So I don’t have injuries that are common to creep up now and then with other runners. I’m very grateful and thankful about that and very fortunate and privileged that I stay pretty much injury free. I don’t push myself too much. I’ve set my PR times for marathons, half marathons and such. Now I’m more about the love and the fun of it and taking my time to smell the roses, and it’s a beautiful thing. In my evolution as a runner and someone who does yoga, it’s no longer something that I need to be competitive with.
Have you had other people join you on runs along the way?
No, never. I made the offer, and a lot of people ask, and people have expressed interest, but they don’t show up. I tell them to just follow my steps. It’s easy. I’ve done the hard work. Just follow behind me, and you’ll make the same thing I’m making. But that doesn’t happen.
I like to design these in solitude. I like to be 100% original with it. My idea, my design. No one made any suggestions and I don’t even tell people what I’m going to do until I finish doing it. So it’s totally my baby. I’ve created it and done it without any input and I didn’t copy anyone else’s design, nothing.
Have you ever considered a route in a different city?
One thing that’s consistent with this is it’s all San Francisco. The drawings are all random things. There’s no connection. There’s no theme or anything like that, but they all are in San Francisco. So I like that thematic unity of everything in one place.
Here in San Francisco the streets are tightly packed, like a grid, so it makes it easy to find a shape in there somewhere. There are some shapes that can’t be done, but I like to challenge myself by putting something I imagine onto the streets and making it fit.
Learn more: follow Lenny on Strava and on Instagram @lennymaughan to see his whereabouts for his next run.