There’s a certain something that marks out an amazing artwork from one that’s merely good: an extra little touch of talent or something special about the concept that raises it above the rest. Here we ask some of our favourite and most inspiring illustrators to reveal how they produce their best pieces.

The artists featured are from digital, hand-made and mixed-media traditions, working in modes including advertising, fashion, editorial, character art, children’s illustration and pattern design. Their advice will show you how to improve colour and composition, produce better inked work and smarter digital techniques – and even how to come up with better concepts to underpin your next incredible artwork.

Blend the real and surreal

Gaia Monsta, unconventionalcreatures.com

Maria Imaginario with her installation Quando o vinho entra o juízo sai

 I love to mix different styles, combining flat vector illustrations with photographic elements. Integrating my funny characters into realistic backgrounds allows me to express my unconventional vision of everyday life, which is often populated by my imaginary friends.

Make it plain to see

Luke Brookes, lukebrookesillustration.co.uk

When you have quite a large subject to portray, using a fairly neutral background can help bring it into focus – you don’t want to distract the viewer from the narrative.

Come & Play by Gaia Monsta

Work from front to back

Ben Javens, benjavens.co.uk

As a starting point, I will generally work on the foreground element – often a character. I then work towards the rear until I’m happy with all the elements and how they fit together in the illustration.

Look in the mirror

Richard Wilkinson, richard-wilkinson.com

Use a mirror whenever you’re creating particular expressions and moods  in portraits and character studies. You can alter features and hair colour, but the expression reference is invaluable. You’ll see how tiny changes in the muscles around the eyes can completely change the mood of the figure.

Ben Javens’ creative process for The Land That Time Forgot