An illustration of five girls in a row who are all wheelchair users, growing up from childhood to adulthood. The final woman is sat in her powerchair at a desk, at work using a computer.
Ages by Esther Kirkpatrick

If it was not for Esther Kirkpatrick, Bertie the Bear would have remained a scribbled doodle and Smile (SSS) Powerchairs would still only be found in photographs, however Esther brought them to life in print and today they can also be seen on our new website. Esther Kirkpatrick workshopped with all the staff at Smile, to create illustrations that reflected how they wanted their innovations and services to be portrayed. Over the past six years she has helped develop a voice and vision for Smile in its third decade, and we are now enjoying much of the excellent work Esther has created in a digital format.

From the moment Esther was asked to work her magic on a decidedly rough original concept for a Softytops logo, she has created countless fun and original designs for Smile. She unfailingly provided pure joy to the recipients of her illustration-packed emails. Esther Dakin-Poole of Smile has been working with her namesake Esther Kirkpatrick for over ten years, during which time Esther K has consistently delivered the most perfectly inspirational designs with an almost Swiss level of efficiency and professionalism. There is no corner of Smile that the Esther’s haven’t collaborated upon, conjuring up ideas such as the Bertie the Bear mascot in multi-coloured 2D form in 2018, which have recently led to the arrival of Bertie as a walking 3D bear in 2020. Bertie will undoubtedly help encourage and bring smiles to the faces of Drivedeck and SSS Powerchair users for many years to come.

Towards the end of 2019 Esther made the decision to focus more time on her personal illustration and painting. The results are utterly enchanting and a perfect reflection of the calm, balanced and yet sparkling energy she effuses and invests into all her work. Illustrating powerchairs and their users is not something frequently asked of artists, and it holds a good number of challenges to the uninitiated. Esther had such integrity and boundless empathy for the subject matter, that her initial illustration ideas came though to us almost in their final form, with little need for adjustment. She commented at one point that she could probably draw powerchairs in her sleep!

The final delight for Smile was Esther’s illustration of what we called ‘The Ages’ drawing. It shows five figures, at various stages of their physical development from childhood through to adulthood all using powered mobility devices, many of whom are using head switches. The last character is a female powerchair user sitting in her own chair, at a desk, at work. We hope that this becomes a more common sight as disability rights and inclusion are steadily improved in the UK and around the world.

At Smile we now use the ‘Ages’ illustration with the hashtag #BigLifeOnWheels as we want to identify what progress and high levels of personal achievement are possible for today’s powerchair users, particularly for our young clients, many of whom are both mobility users and voiceless. The illustration is a rare visual representation of a powerchair user developing with age together with their mobility device. It shows children an image of themselves that they can relate to and what independent hopes and aspirations they can reach towards as they grow. There are an encouraging number of representations of wheelchair users and persons with disabilities appearing in mainstream media today and we see Esther K’s work as an extension of that progressive trend.

A picture of a women laying in a stream, called Wild Women by Esther Kirkpatrick.
Wild Women by Esther Kirkpatrick

Esther has now left technology behind her for 2020 and is immersing herself in the lush beauty of British nature. This piece is called ‘Wild Women’ as coined by the iconic American writer Clarissa Pikola Estés, which seems rather fitting as Estés herself was a lifelong activist working in service of a different voiceless community. ‘Wild Women‘ is an enticing vision of what we can hope to see from Esther during this exciting new period in her career. We wish her well and very much look forward to hanging one of her beautiful new creations upon our wall after her next successful exhibition. You can find out more about Esther’s uplifting work from her website:

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