Valentin Pavageau’s digital collages fuse surrealism with psychedelia

Inspired by old paintings and stop motion, the illustrator combines small characters and vast landscapes to create dream-like images

French illustrator Valentin Pavageau creates digital collages which allow him to mix multiple influences and aesthetics that he’s inspired by. “If you select your sources carefully you can creates moods or atmospheres really of their own, without limitation of drawing ability or style,” he tells CR. 

“Digital collage especially allows unlimited possibilities in terms of background creation or colour scheme, and feels very much alive because every single aspect of the piece can change seamlessly all along the creative process. And it’s a relatively recent field of expression, so there’s still a lot to explore in my opinion.”

Top: The Smoking Gun, Above: 414. All images: Valentin Pavageau

Pavageau began making images as a child when he would draw comic books. At art school he worked mostly with Indian ink and then gradually shifted to digital collage around 2012 after a brief hiatus. The work Pavageau creates today is a blending of surrealism, symbolism and psychedelia. 

“I’ve always been fascinated by the power of certain pictures in the imagination, especially when you discover them at an early age. For example, I have a really strong memory of Dali’s painting of Shirley Temple as a sphynx that I saw as a child, it was scary but so mysterious,” explains Pavageau. “Same with old school paintings in movies, or Ray Harryhausen’s work in stop motion special FX. So I try to create pictures that somehow look like dreams, with this kind of odd feel.” 

A Soft Warm Place

Small figures navigate vast landscapes in Pavageau’s images and there are two reasons for this. The first is to do with framing, and providing a cinematic dimension to the image and the second is more a personal choice for the illustrator.

“My favourite cutouts are really small, because the loss in accuracy makes the character look in-between a drawing and a photograph,” he says. “The lines become really thin, and you can’t really distinguish faces and bodies.” 

Tower I

For Pavageau, most images start from finding a character and building around it or a certain scene simply comes to mind. “I experiment a lot, I’m quite messy but I try every single possibility of composition, colour scheme, and framing,” he says of his process. “Until I feel it ‘works’ for me, I know then I’m on the right track.” 

Most importantly though, each image is separate to the other, and while some are created as a series, Pavageau says he’s after consistency but not repetition. “I’m not interested in making the same stuff all over again,” he says. “So it’s challenging sometimes to find new directions – and keeping the passion at the same time.” 

Black Water

What helps to fuel his passion is the reaction he gets from people finding his work on social media.At first I was surprised to have a lot of backfeed from people finding some emotional resonance with my work, who projected their own interpretations, and I couldn’t ask for more,” he says.

“It’s what I love the most in art, it’s a strong vessel for emotion and imagination. If I can be part of this loop of inspiration, I’m real glad.”