From Paint to Swimsuits
by Alexa Hotz
The act of swimming is a compilation of strokes and lines: the edge of a rubber cap snapping behind the ear, a swimsuit strap across the back, underwater limbs that glide, turn, and kick. The English tradition of competitive swim strokes salutes the grace of synchronicity. Swimming rightly is essential. “Scientific stroke analytics has helped produce more varied strokes, greater speeds, and a better understanding of propulsion through the water,” cites a Washington Post article on olympic swim. To make the subtle adjustments to improve one’s stroke, an exceptional suit is preferred. Here, London-based illustrator Rosie McGuinness presents an invigorating portrait. Grab a suit and jump in.
The Trudgen is a starter stroke (a crawl stroke), the most common of the lot, and involves cross-coordination between the arms, head, legs, and breath. The swimmer creates an “S” formation in the arm as the head props to the side to take in breath and alternates sides down the lane. Concurrently, the swimmer kicks the legs with the knees slightly bent and the ankles relaxed. The stroke is named after John Trudgen, the Brit who brought the style, adapted from Argentinian swimmers, to England in 1873 where it was adopted as the main racing stroke. Rosie’s girl goes for a one piece costume, her form outlined in color detail. Her lines on the page form and dissolve for figures and shapes to breathe.
Most assume freestyle swimming is a type of crawl (or Trudgen, as above), but true freestyle is swimming with limited restrictions to one’s stroke. The freestylist flutters her feet and involves any number of strokes into her swim—breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke, or crawl, most commonly. Freestyle suits glide between structured and unstructured design: a marigold half-halter with a thin strap around the neck and a chalk-colored bandeau with straps that criss-cross or tie around the neck. Rosie, too, draws with structured freestyle, allowing for natural strokes of ink to form. “A drawing should just look right, balanced, and not too contrived,” she says. “A block of color can ground the lines, or sometimes, the lines are fine on their own.”
Drawing, for me, is intuitive and instinctive. I work quickly, sometimes drawing a composition many times before I think its right. Although, the first is often what I come back to as it will always have the most natural lines. There is definitely a knowing when the line looks and feels right.Rosie McGuinness
Backstroke is a stroke for the intrepid, for the buoyant swimmer trusting in her abilities. Half-floating, half-swimming, the swimmer glides on her back through the water coordinating arm movement with assertive legs. The arms alternate out of the water (always thumb first as the other four fingers follow) and up over the head energetically.
A strong back is essential for any stroke where the center of the body acts as a generator for the limbs. Says Rosie: “I want the women I draw to be and look ‘cool,’ to have the right attitude and be strong and at ease.” If strength comes in numbers, this time its one with single-piece swimsuits that dive down the back. Here, back straps outline the shoulder blades and spine for a modern dose of sensuality.
Don’t mistake the butterfly stroke for something lithe. Graceful though it may be, the stroke requires incredible vigor. Like dancing in the water, the butterfly is a balance of strength and timing. The arms sweep back with palms cupped outward to pull the body forward and through the water. One comprehensive, synchronized movement. Two leg strokes with one swooping arm makes up a single cycle of butterfly breaststroke. Rosie’s girl wears her suit like a dress, the tomato-colored flounce tricot on one shoulder and a belted waist.
It’s said that breaststroke, the preferred stroke for competitive swim, was, until the midcentury, the only stroke with a required style. It’s exacting, strong, and great for rough water swims. The stroke begins with arms overhead and out in front, then the arms are drawn to the chest to pull through the water. Then, in frog-like fashion, bent knees come together at the chest then straight out behind. Rosie draws like a swimmer: “relaxed and direct with a definite ‘line.’ No fuss on the page.” Fuss-free suits in navy-colored athletic material are suited to the breaststroke, while modern details like a knitted scalloped edge create that definite line.
A conservationist stroke, the side stroke was developed for long-distance swimming where alternating the use of each side conserves the energy of the swimmer—nothing is wasted here. Facing sideways with legs straight, the lower arm is extended like a satellite while the upper arm hugs the body. Sweeping the lower arm through the water, the two arms meet with palms facing each other to propel the swimmer through the water. Like the sidestroke swimmer whose form hugs the body, so does the modern trinkini with waist-defining cutouts.
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Artwork by Rosie McGuinness