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.

Mess around with blending

Johnnie Weiliang Hoek,

When working with shadow, try playing with different types of gradient or blending modes for the best possible shading effect.

Uberra by Radim Malinic

Put the colour on hold

Ben Javens,

I work solidly in greyscale until the composition is finalised. If I start thinking about colour too early it can limit my creativity.

Branch out

Radim Malinic,

Expand your software knowledge with tips and tools from other creative disciplines, such as retouching or 3D modelling. This can not only provide a quick remedy for problems, but will also give a new angle to your work.

Anchor point pointers

Simon C Page,

When using the Pen tool in Illustrator, you should always try to reduce the number of anchor points to the bare minimum for the smoothest curves. However, it isn’t always obvious which points are redundant and so it often pays to use the Simplify dialog (Object > Path > Simplify…) and adjust accordingly.

On the other hand, you might have drawn a very simple sketch and want to add more points for greater manipulation. Then try Object > Path > Add Anchor Points. This will add a new anchor point after every existing anchor point of the selected path.

Poster for the International Year of Chemistry 2011, by Simon C Page

Mimic paint on paper

Richard Wilkinson,

To evoke the look and feel of paint in Photoshop, open the Brushes palette and check Color Dynamics. Select the pen pressure option to control foreground/background jitter, and then go for complementary foreground and background colours. Used subtly, this can create a natural effect of paint mixed on paper.

The importance of being experimental

Simon C Page,

Keep experimenting for fun whenever you can – new processes that you stumble across are the gold that you turn to when the pressure’s on with a deadline.