What do you do when you want to paint something that doesn't exist? Why, build a model, of course!
I used to look on spending mounds of time on reference-gathering as time more or less wasted. "Why would I spend time in Photoshop meshing images together when I could just do it on the canvas?" Now I view it a bit differently. Taking the time to create the best reference I can cuts my painting time IN HALF. That's right, IN HALF!
Here's a little montage I made of my last model build:
Here's the winning image from the pursuant photoshoot:
From there I added supplemental reference and roughly put it all together in Photoshop:
And here's the final painting:
Taking the time to gather the best reference you can may feel painful in the moment, but I guarantee it is totally worth it. So, go give it a go!