In an effort to appear modern in todays art world it is often fashionable to place less emphasis on subject matter and more on application where the subject of the painting is the paint itself and then to attach to it some deep and meaningful title. That may well be fair enough, as we will all see something even in a simple ink blot, because that is the nature of the human mind. But if you wish to choose something to paint in a representational way then you must ask yourself, "What will I paint?"
Everything is paintable and therefore everything is a possible subject. From those things we can readily see like landscapes and seascapes to still life, portraits, figures and animals. To those things we can imagine like dreams and fantasies, stories, mythologies and religion. There is no end to your possible choices. So from the hundreds of subjects to choose from how do you select that which is best for you?
One way can be to examine the work of other artists and to see what inspires you. This is not to say that you will copy the subject but perhaps instead try to make it your own. Can you do it in a new way and can you add some value to it by your own style of expression?
Some artists will rarely stray from their home and studio. Pierre Bonnard for example would paint those things around his garden, his wife, his cat, guests who came to stay. Cezanne also rarely left the area around his home. Yes he painted mountains but those mountains where virtually outside his house.
Indeed any random selection of artists will show that subject choices are sparked often by where and how you live and breathe. Degas lived in Paris and drew inspiration from the theatre and cafe life. Rubens used mythology and Turner the land and sea.
My own preference, though I dabble with abstraction, is for mythology and the nude female form. I am inspired by the classical masters and it doesn't take me long in perusing my art books to become inspired and to sit down and paint. Subject choice then is that which will inspire you and that which will add fuel to the fire of painting. In this way you will do your best work because you are 100% involved in it. For that reason I rearely do commissions. I'm not inspired by painting somebodies pet or boat and know that I cannot give it my all. Yes it may be a paying job but for me painting is about love and not money. That is not a luxury all artists have so you might take up your brush to paint Ms Miggins cat if she is to pay well enough for your time and talent. My advice in that case would be to have more than one painting
on the go. One for yourself and the paying job. You can then devote time to each and reap the benefits of love and money.
Tip: Keep a note book or scrap book handy in which to jot down ideas and references so when faced with the blank canvas you can often refer to it for an idea you may have forgotten.
Tip: You may be inclined not to choose a subject that seems too difficult, this would be a mistake, because only through pushing our limits of what we can achieve may we progress.