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Window art . . . Camila Cataldo in front of some of the work she has done for Oamaru business Design Federation. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

Argentinian graphic designer Camila Cataldo was reluctant to come to Oamaru at first. Now she is sad to be leaving. She talks to Ashley Smyth about how New Zealand has left an impression on her and her work.

When Camila Cataldo arrived in Oamaru with fiance Nacho Rillo-Cabanne in the middle of last year, the Buenos Aires-raised artist was worried she was moving to the middle of nowhere.

Mr Rillo-Cabanne has a degree in agribusiness and wanted to come to New Zealand to gain dairy-farming experience. He found a job with Enfield farmers Callum and Twyla Kingan, and moved here in April last year.

“As for me, I wasn’t so sure about that,” Miss Cataldo said. “I had my job back in Argentina and I was happy there.”

That July, Mr Rillo-Cabanne went home to visit Miss Cataldo, and proposed to her.

“Then, I was like, now I have to go’.”

They planned to stay in Oamaru for a year, head home to get married, and maybe return after that. Then, Covid-19 hit.

Their September flights home were cancelled, their October wedding for 400 guests had to be postponed, and returning home was not in the foreseeable future.

“Now with Christmas coming up and not knowing when we will see our families. We said we can return’,” she said.

The pair leave Oamaru on Sunday night after the Victorian Fete, and will head home via Auckland and Los Angeles.

Miss Cataldo and Mr Rillo-Cabanne appreciate that they were in the right place when the pandemic hit – although it was hard being away from home.

“When we were thinking about going back, our parents were like,

“You know when your mind tells you to do something. But your heart is telling you to do a different thing? Luckily, me and my partner were on the same page, and we had to follow our heart.”

During her time in New Zealand, Miss Cataldo has been working as a graphic designer at Tourism Waitaki, and also freelancing. Her talent is on display in branding for local businesses such as Design Federation, Honey and Spice, and new restaurant Del Mar, opening in the former Portside building.

“I always try to, when I have to design something, put some of my illustration in it. Mainly always botanic. I love plants. I love nature.

“I think what happened to me here in New Zealand that didn’t happen before, is that living on the farm and being surrounded by nature got me really inspired.

“Here, it’s like you’re more in touch with nature. I started illustrating even more.”

Miss Cataldo is also the face behind Conamapolas, which has a strong following on Instagram and drew the attention of an Argentine author who approached her to illustrate a book, which has just come off the printer back home. The book involved about 100 illustrations and she hoped it would open some doors for her when she got back there.

The book that Camila Cataldo has illustrated.

“I feel like being here helped me make this. It was amazing. It was tiring, because I still have my fulltime job here.

“I didn’t sleep much, I have to say. But it was worth it. I was not complaining.

“You can ask my partner. He always said I was working non-stop but always with a smile, because I love it. I love what I do.”

Conamapolas means “with poppies” and Miss Cataldo started the Instagram account years ago as a creative outlet while she was working within the stricter confines of an advertising agency.

“I kind of needed somewhere where I could do just what I wanted,” she said.

“I started it as a hobby, as a place where I could just create with no boundaries and that account started to grow. I also wanted a different channel where I could show my work.

“I love that people can recognise my style. It’s not something that I do on purpose. I try to do things that I like and I like that style, so I always end up doing you know, the same style.

Nacho Rillo-Cabanne and Camila Cataldo at Windsor Dairies where Nacho is working for Callum and Twyla Kingan.

The thing she will miss most about New Zealand is the people.

“The people are really nice and kind and friendly. It surprises me, because when I go grocery shopping, the girls when you’re paying, they ask, your day?’, and that’s not really usual back home.

“They’re always nice and smiling. I really love Kiwis.”

Miss Cataldo and Mr Rillo-Cabanne will especially miss the Kingans, who have been like second parents to them while they have been here.

Their wedding – whatever that will look like now – is now planned for March, and Miss Cataldo will be taking a little bit of New Zealand with her home in a box for the big day.

“I even got my dress in New Zealand. So I have it here. I’m taking my dress. I don’t know when I’m going to get to wear it. We really want to get married. We might just do it how we can.”