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.

Choose the right tools

Stefanie Haslberger,

When developing an illustration style, using the right tools is key. For pen work, smooth, thin paper works beautifully. Try tracing an initial rough sketch with a black pigment liner (try widths of 0.05, 0.1 and 0.3mm). Work inwards from the outside, filling each space.

Work by Simon Brader for HR magazine

Brush pens are it

Mark Goss,

Brush pens are perfect for making clean, crisp lines and work really well over watercolours, coloured ink and even acrylic. I couldn’t do without a decent Japanese brush pen for working on paper. I use one with replaceable ink cartridges so the ink is true black – often difficult to achieve with a fineliner.

Watercolour wisdom

Daniel Mackie,

Playing with colour when working in watercolours can be challenging. If you are painting wet on wet, always work from light to dark to build it up gradually.

Colin’s Reverie by Luke Brookes

Reinterpret the obsolete

Gaia Monsta,

I love the ‘recycling’ philosophy. Any object can turn out to be interesting if you manage to reinterpret it. Many of my artworks are made with this intent, involving giving a new life to, or creating a character out, of an old unused object.

Use a bit of everything

Simon Brader,

Use everything and anything you can. Flick, smear, drag paint and ink…. Scan and use either as masked objects or textured backgrounds.

Family portrait by Abby Wright

Idea dictates method

Gaia Monsta,

Try not to restrict yourself in terms of technique or tools of choice; let the idea dictate the method. Mixing, reusing and experimenting is fun and very often leads to great and original results.