Paul Banning RI RSMA is a traditional watercolourist specialising in painting plein air, painting in all weathers. He was due to speak about his use of sketchbooks in the gallery during the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 208th Exhibition. Now that none of us are allowed out, whatever the weather, Paul has shared some images from his sketchbooks with us here.

"I have been an avid sketcher from childhood and have accumulated many sketchbooks over the years, and I would like to share just a few images with you with some explanation of what appealed to me about the subject and with an image of the finished painting.

I tend to use an A4 ring binder sketchbook which allows for a double page to be used."


The two images are of much the same subject, Bruges, using the whole page; the first one was abandoned as it poured with rain and the paint began to run - anyway I liked it; ah well! Maybe another time ... and so after the rain I moved to another spot and did the second one, which I then used to develop into a painting.

The Tank Battle of Cambrai November 1915

I am fortunate enough to have two sons who are First World War historians, and I had the opportunity to join them on a trip to Cambrai and the surrounding area, and thought I might be able to get some interesting information for a painting. How lucky I was that we were taken to an old barn where the relics of the tank Battle of Cambrai were being displayed, a damaged full-size tank, ammunition, trucks and debris from the battlefield.

My sketchbook was soon out and my energy level soared as I quickly contour drew the images in front of me. I remember at the time the surge of energy and excitement as I captured the information for my painting.

In a painting that is historical, the facts have to be right so I did a number of small sketches discussing them with my sons before I got to an image that was, to me, both artistic and yet reasonably factual.  

Cutty Sark

I am a member of the Wapping Group of Artists who specialise in painting the River Thames and its estuaries during the summer months, plein air. Fortunately, the Group was invited to visit the site at Greenwich when the Cutty Sark was being refurbished, and permission was given to gather information for a painting. I was able to go down to the keel of the ship where the planking was being renovated, and sat and did this small sketch with some colour notes.

More than anything the atmosphere stayed with me as I used my sketch to develop the finished painting.

Deserted Italy

I have painted in many parts of the world and a sketchbook is so good for capturing immediate information. I spent a couple of weeks with some painting friends in southern Italy in an area called Basilicata in the centre of the Boot of Italy. On one day trip out we drove to a small deserted village on a hilltop, and came across this village which was completely deserted - not a soul in sight. We walked through it going in and out of buildings, all as if the occupants had left in a hurry.

My sketch depicts this hurried departure, rubbish everywhere, and yet some order. Leaving behind certain objects, maybe one last party? So out comes the sketchbook and I captured a number of interesting subjects. This one converted into a full imperial watercolour. The shaft of light through the shutters and that last drink of wine before departing captures the subject.

Jim Carrying Potatoes

I am now in Trinidad, my birthplace and have friends who own a beautiful little cottage overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from the North Coast range of hills, where the sea breeze brings cool air in from the Atlantic as well as much rain. The ground is very fertile and bananas, coconut trees and mango trees grow wild.

This sketch was produced sitting on the side of a very narrow and steep track where a local had a small dwelling! His name was Jim, and he would go out to dig up root crops, potatoes yam and such growing wild. What an opportunity! The sketch is more detailed than usual but I had the time. The sun was shining, it was a warm and a beautiful day - why hurry? Jim saw what I was doing so I persuaded him to show me how he carried the potatoes. In no time he had the sack on his head and I was able to do a quick scribble and put him in the picture. Life can be so good sometimes.


After 9/11, when tourism to the Middle East was slow, I went to Jordan; to Jerash Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and on to Egypt. Having done the day of the tourist in Petra, I spent the next 4 days sketching and gathering information for paintings. My sketchbook went everywhere with me and I was able to produce a number of very good works from these 4 days of sketching.


Passers-by often looked at me and thought and said I was quite mad sitting in the hot sunshine, sketching but I gathered some very good images to work up in the comfort of my studio over the winter months. Here is one of the Treasury in Petra, an amazing structure carved out of the rock by hand and still surviving today. I produced an oil painting and a number of watercolour from the sketches. 

Old Cobblers Shop, Holland

Over a number of years, I made a variety of boat trips sailing around the Ijsselmeer and out into the North Sea with some painting friends. We stopped on one occasion at one of the ports where I discovered this old Cobblers workshop. What attracted me was the mysterious things that seemed to be showing up in the dismal light and a sketch seemed the best way to capture it, unlike a flashed photograph which would have altered the effect of the interior.

Once I had the information down it was very easy to develop it into a painting. Some would say it was rather dull but on the contrary, I feel it is important that we try to paint in different and subdued lights, not just bright sunlight.

Westminster Abbey

I have always been fascinated at this facia of Westminster Abbey and planned to do a little sketch of it.

When I started to sketch I was immediately interrupted by passers- by who wanted to see what I was doing. So I crossed the road and noticed a small triangle area between Victoria Street and Tothill Street where I could sit with my sketchbook in the door way of a shop now a Bank. I was out of sight of the passers bye so an ideal spot to produce my sketch which became a small watercolour. I made notes about colours and was able to study the detail the complicated East window without any interruptions. With this data I produced two in daylight images and one at night. 


The galleries might be closed but you can view the entire Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 208th Exhibition online. Most works are for sale, with prices starting at £350.

View the RI's 208th Exhibition online now