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 14 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. Here they show you how to improve colour and composition.

Even flow

Simon Brader,

I really like trying to create a flow to my images. By carefully tweaking vector shapes in Illustrator I can add movement that captures the viewer’s eye and draws them to the main concepts behind the illustration.

Melodic Fish by Stefanie Haslberger

Pay attention to palettes

Luke Brookes,

Colours are connected with emotion, and selecting the right ones will strengthen your ideas and bring the piece to life. I also find using a fixed number of colours can really help set the mood and feel of a piece.

Zoom out for the big picture

Simon C Page,

One of my favourite tips for nailing the composition as best I can in my designs is to shrink it down to a small thumbnail (about an inch wide, similar to the results in a Google image search).  Looking at your designs at this size allows you to forget about the finer details and simply concentrate on the key elements of the piece.

Images from Organic, a new book of 200 experimental patterns by sisters Nicole and Petra Kapitza, aka the studio Kapitza

Test pattern

Nicole & Petra Kapitza,

When creating patterns, concentrate on one colour family (see examples above) and use different shades and hues of your chosen colours. Make sure you use variations of pale and saturated colours – this gives the pattern depth and helps make the whole composition more exciting.

Exquisite variations

Ben Javens,

I deconstruct the image in my mind and draw all the parts I’ll need to compose it, including a few extras, so that I can play with to find the best combination. As for colour, most of the time I’ll start with two or three combinations before working one up as the final piece.

Safari by Richard Wilkinson

Pale sketches

Luke Brookes,

A strong composition can change the whole feel and look of a piece. To create a layout and composition I am happy with, I usually sketch thumbnails of different ideas before settling on a few and working them up into bigger sketches.

Make time to reflect

Daniel Mackie,

Give yourself plenty of time to constantly review and reflect on your work to ensure the foundations of your drawing as a composition. If you get this part right, the rest of the process is a lot smoother.

Illustration for Triathlete’s World by Daniel Mackie

Material girl

Maria Imaginario,

Creating 3D installations requires careful consideration. I practise by experimenting with materials to recreate the exact image in my mind. I then go directly from sketch to wall.

See what crops up

Abby Wright,

I really enjoy playing with the compositional elements in an illustration. I find that being adventurous with the crop pushes me to open up and be more experimental with the drawing as a whole. Try a composition that you’d usually feel uncomfortable with and allow yourself to free up a little.