One of my favorite parts of being an artist is never knowing where my next inspiration will come from. One week it could come from a walk I took in the forest, another could be sparked by something I've read recently, or maybe a beautiful piece of calligraphy. My job is simply to remain curious and open to finding inspiration in all the strange and unexpected places.
It can be easy, I think, to fall into a "genre rut," so to speak. Where you become so entrenched in one genre (children's books, fantasy, dark, realism, etc.) that you lose sight of all the other wonderful sources of inspiration all around you. While it's good to keep up-to-date on the goings on in the markets in which you work, if you look only to others' work, how will yours be different, unexpected, and delightfully original?
A good challenge to get you out and looking about is to go to the library and get books on 5 things you know nothing about. So, for me, I might get books on Chinese ceramics, constellations, German festivals, crochet, and early automobiles. Then, do some doodling based on what you find in the books. I might doodle an old lady crocheting in an old car flying down the road, her scarf/whatever she was making trailing out behind the car. Or maybe a big Chinese vase covered in stylized constellations or German folklore. Anything to get my brain thinking in different ways. I believe it's good and healthy to force yourself out of your comfort zone and to get interested in new things.
Another thing I've learned is to embrace your obsessions. I'm not talking about how you binge-watched all 7 seasons of 30 Rock in 2 days, but rather, all the weird and interesting things that you find yourself drawn to. Do you collect stamps? Play lacrosse? Love to cook Indian food? Really like shoes? Use it! Let yourself be inspired by these spikes of curiosity and use them in your work.
For instance, while I'm working on a big papercutting, I tend to become consumed with whatever the scene is. So, while working on the Arabian Nights papercutting, I did nothing but research Arabian and Moroccan architecture and mosaics, Arabic calligraphy, Arabian folktales, native desert plants, styles of dress, and Islamic art. I imagined what that courtyard would smell like, with the sweet desert jasmine, the woman's perfume of sandalwood and spice, the hot dusty stones. What it would feel like to dip my hand in the fountain after a day in the hot desert. What the music and language would sound like wafting through those huge archways. What it would be like to snack on dates and Moroccan tea, seated on brightly patterned cushions.
So let yourself go a little crazy! Be swept away by your curiosity! And most of all, have fun. While the end result may belong to your viewers, the process belongs solely to you, so sink yourself into every moment of it and enjoy.