Distilling design with Ruth Mitchener

Industrial design graduate Ruth Mitchener has won a slew of awards for her endeavours. After nine months in Paris gathering inspiration, she's opening up the creative gates.

Industrial design graduate Ruth Mitchener has won a slew of awards for her endeavours. After nine months in Paris gathering inspiration, she's opening up the creative gates.

artist ruth mitchener self portraitTell us about your final project at university?

The brief was to come up with a design that caters for three different clients, one being the Body Shop, another Wellington Drive motors, and the final client was the New Zealand dairy industry. After a lot of experiments and brainstorms, the end result was a domestic steam distillation system called De Still. It extracts the essential oils from plants you grow in your garden. You can make basil oil and use three drops in your cooking when basil is out of season.

Distillation is all about breaking matter down through a digestive process, much like the alchemic process a cow undertakes when turning grass into milk. It all worked out very well and I ended up winning the Methven Award for Innovation and Excellence for the most outstanding final project.

Any other awards?

I won the Victoria University Medal for Academic Excellence and the 2011 Faculty of Architecture and Design Excellence Award.

How did you find the time for blogging, photography, sewing, designing pencil cases and journals and creating a new font for a Goethe Institute competition while doing so well at university?

I have a strong need for creating new things. It just comes to me, really. Industrial design teaches you how things are actually made, now I go to a shop and look at a product with different eyes. I can see now that a lot of products are really bad quality and very expensive at the same time. So I just make it myself because I can’t afford to buy pricey, badly made products.

Do you ever get designers block and if so, how do you overcome it?

Yes, sometimes you are just stuck. Food is very important – I can’t work when I’m hungry. Brainstorming is another thing I do. I get a big white board or piece of paper and list all my ideas and all aspects of my design and put it together like a puzzle. It is very helpful to find that moment of clarity. Sometimes you have to work towards that physical feeling when you know that you have a good idea and that it’s all going to work out. It’s probably different for everyone but I can always feel when my ideas are going to work out. If I don’t have that feeling, I start working on something different.

Who inspires you?

I’m mainly inspired by my amazing family, and then of course there are the usual culprits such as Kenya Hara, Naoto Fukasawa, Dieter Rams, and of course Charles and Ray Eames.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m about to move to Auckland with my husband Andrew, who I’m hoping to team up with professionally. He is an architect and one day we’d like to be the new Charles and Ray Eames.

I’m very passionate about book design at the moment and I’d love to do photography or styling for books but you never know what may happen. Society thinks you only have one path and you have to stick to it but I don’t like that idea. I want to do lots of different things.

I like Stefan Sagmeister’s philosophy. He’s a graphic designer who works for a few years and then takes a few years off. He says he is so refreshed and creative when he comes back to work, he produces so much. I’d love to be able to work like that in the future.

artist ruth mitchener's work