I was asked the infamous question again recently. What is the question?
"Where do you get your ideas?"
There is no 'one size fits all' answer, but for non-commissioned artwork, the best answer I have been able to give is by looking at things in different ways. My paintings (not unlike many other artists) are about presenting something familiar in an unfamiliar way.
If you look at the works of other representational artists, you will notice they have reoccurring subject matter. They work hard to present their interests in new ways while introducing topics or statements.
I am no different. Some of my personal influences are: cartoons (of course!), antonyms, humor, health, psychology, anthropomorphism, documentaries, puns & wordplay. All of these make appearances in my paintings. In particular, antonyms.
There is a book I bought many years ago called 'InstantSynonyms & Antonyms'. I look through it sometimes for ideas (you can also use thesaurus.com). An antonym is the exact opposite of another word. If you are familiar with something, it makes sense the exact opposite is probably something you're less familiar with. Or, you may have trouble remembering a time when you weren't familiar with it. Again, presenting something familiar in an unfamiliar way. Look for antonyms in your surroundings and routine. How can you exploit them?
(Antonyms also makes a great road trip game I came up with. You and a friend can take turns reciting a word and the other person names the exact opposite of that word. It's not a game about keeping score, just about increasing your vocabulary and having fun. The ONLY RULE I came up with is you're not allowed to use prefixes. So, if someone says the word 'cooperative' you can't say 'UNcooperative'. Correct answers would be: hinder, impede, obstruct...)
What do you do to remember your ideas? Keep track of them somehow in the physical realm! Don't trust your memory.
Inside my 'painting' folder on my computer where I keep digital images of previous paintings organized by year (while we're at it: back up your files on a portable hard drive!), I keep one of my most important folders: 'NOT DONE'. This is a folder full of more folders with the working titles of paintings I have yet to complete. Inside those folders are reference images saved from the internet of key visual elements, objects, characters, even color schemes I want to borrow. When I'm ready to start a new painting (that's not part of a group show or commission) I will look through this folder and select the one I'm most excited about. Some ideas in that folder will NEVER be produced. And that's OK - because you want to pick the best ones. Every time I start a painting I usually get an idea for two more anyway because creating that painting generates a deeper interest in something.
Also, I strongly recommend keeping a note pad and pen by your bed side. Jot down all your ideas as you're going to bed, when you wake up early before you fall back asleep or if you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea - jot it down! I use a pad that was given to me with quotes by Andy Warhol. (I crossed out his name and wrote mine above. Why should I let him take credit for my ideas? haha.) If you're on the go - write down your ideas on your phone or carry a note pad with you. Find a system to keep track of your ideas that works for YOU.
A quote by him on the back of the pad is my favorite of his (and one I need to implement more). It appropriately relates back to presenting something familiar in an unfamiliar way: