While surfing the Net, I often come across pics of that warrant further study... you can tell at a glance that they deserve more than a cursory inspection in order to pull the most inspiration out of them. Often it's of a model paintjob or conversion that I need to visually dissect for curiosity's sake, or perhaps try and reverse engineer the process ("Hmmm... how DID they do that!?"). Sometimes it's a pic of something NOT in the miniature painting world... a real life example of rust on an old tank, a forest floor in winter time, etc.
When I come across pics like that, I'll save the pic to my hard drive and file it away under one of many folders I've created. Organized thusly, when it comes time to do a project, I'll look into the relevant folders to get some ideas on how I want to proceed with it. For example:
When I came across this pic of an armoured Tir Na Bor dwarf by Bohun, I knew I had to try this scratched metal effect on one up my upcoming projects.
Apologies for the crap unedited quality of the pic. I've got a photographer friend of mine working on editing a batch up these, and I'll have them up soon. In any case, not knowing exactly how Bohun did the scratches on his paintjob, I experimented with thin black lines, followed by an ever finer underline in the brightest silver paint I could find. This was to try and convey some depth to the scratch... the dark line would be the shadow, and the light line would be the light catching on the bottom edge of the deep furrow. You can see I applied this technique to the metal headlight covers, the viewing port armour, and the bottom covers of the exhausts. Of course, I got lazy and didn't apply the same technique to some other metal areas... namely the pintle-mounted bolter and the exhaust tips. I could also have tried doing it to the black and red areas as well, but I decided to go for paint chipping effects instead.
The penny was in there just to show scale of the model. When showing pics of models to friends / family members who aren't familiar with miniature painting, it's often good to show them just how small the models are, otherwise it's hard to understand just why we spend so much time adding extra shading and highlighting to a model in order to trick the eye into believing the model is a full scale tank / person / whatever.
Interesting note about the Canadian penny: The Royal Canadian Mint just discontinued production of them last year, so the nickel will be the smallest denomination coin from now on, and they also f*cked up when they tried to put a relief pic of the Canadian maple leaf on it... professional arborists have now confirmed that the leaf they used was actually one from a Sycamore tree, NOT the maple leaf (symbol of Canada).
Sorry... that was my Sheldon moment (for you fans of The Big Bang Theory). As my buddies at work like to remind me, I'm a veritable font of useless knowledge.
Anyway, lugging my computer over to my paint station is out of the question, and printing full colour pics of each inspiration pic would get expensive, so I often transfer the pics to my BlackBerry Playbook (but an iPad would work just as well). While sitting and painting, I'll whip out my Playbook every so often to refresh my memory, and study the pics in further detail. The portability of my tablet is also an asset, as I am often working on my models away from home (in gaming stores, at friend's places, classrooms, conventions, etc.).
So, instead of just surfing the Net, try collecting pics from all over, and use them as references to inspire your next project. I often get all fired up and intensely motivated when I see something I've GOT to try out for myself, and that means more time at the painting table. More time at the painting table means more practice, and more practice almost always means more skill developed.
But don't just slap away with a loaded brush. Really look at your reference pics, study the cr*p out of them, dissect them in your mind, and then formulate a plan. It may work out, it may not, but at least you'll be painting. Often things work out brilliantly on the third or fourth try, very rarely on the first. Patience is the key, but at least with a reference pic you've got something of a roadmap to success.