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.

Think outside the box

Radim Malinic,

Promo image for Radim Malinic’s gallery show in January 2012

Every new project requires a set of fresh ideas. Inspiration is best drawn from objects completely unrelated to the project, so look outside the obvious alleyways.

Loosen up

Maria Imaginario,

I start by doodling everything that comes to mind, no matter how stupid it may be. I try to maintain the simplistic quality and spontaneity of these initial sketches. Where necessary I use reference material, especially personal photographs. 

Trust your instincts

Daniel Mackie,

Often the gut-reaction response to a brief can give birth to the strongest ideas, even if they are unconventional. It’s important to negotiate this sort of freedom with clients to ensure your integrity isn’t compromised.

Snap yourself

Stefanie Haslberger,

Wolf by Stefanie Haslberger

Record your experiences: photography is an important part of the creative process, and a great way to obtain unique reference material without having to worry about copyright.

Look beyond your discipline

Abby Wright,

I find inspiration everywhere – in fashion illustration, portraiture, animation, photography, nature, old books, the work of contemporary illustrators and old masters. Don’t just look at disciplines relevant to your own.

Controlled play

Luke Brookes,

It’s important to continue to experiment and have fun with your work whilst maintaining control over the piece. Create your own library of textures, too.

Seek inside yourself

Stefanie Haslberger,

Too many creatives rely heavily on the Internet for inspiration. I encourage every illustrator to explore their own world and draw on their personal experience.

Poster by Simon C Page for a London Science Festival event at the Royal Observatory Greenwich