Some readers expressed interest in knowing more about the new watercolor pigments. This article from the technical department at Winsor&Newton was influential in persuading me to revamp my palette. It describes some of the best new pigments introduced over the past decade, and explains why they are an improvement.
A couple of weeks ago, before traveling, I emptied my old Cotman field box and replaced all the half-pan colors with 12 professional artist-quality paints. Having tried it out on the road, I'm really glad I've gone to the trouble for my travel box as well as the studio palette. With some extra half-pans, I can switch the pans in and out of the box before going out, depending on what I'm likely to be painting.
My mom, who long ago saw my tendency to be parsimonious with my art supplies, always told me to use the best materials I could, and that if I used them up she'd help me buy more. It's true for brushes, paint, and paper: every one of these elements is vital. The better the tools, the better the results, and the more one enjoys using them. I sometimes wonder if the crummy paper and brushes kids are given in school make it impossible for a lot of them to enjoy painting; inadequate brushes aren't responsive and don't hold a point or sufficient pigment; lower-quality paper is too absorbent and can contain fillers that dull the clarity and brightness of colors, as well as impeding flow and one's ability to lift pigment or add washes and glazes; lower quality colors lack transparency and brilliance, and don't mix cleanly and become muddy faster.
As for colors, it's very personal and you need to experiment to find out what works for you. These are swatches I painted using the colors I'm preferring these days. In general, I seem to be choosing colors from rows 1 and 2. For travel, I took 12 of those, subtracting the magenta, yellow ochre, and pyrrol orange, and adding cerulean blue. But as a basic set of six, you'd be fine with a basic red, yellow, blue, and green such as those on row 1, plus a couple of earth colors, such as quinacridone gold and van dyke brown.
So if you're considering starting -- or re-starting -- to paint, please go out and buy yourself some sheets of high-quality 140 lb cold-press paper and cut it up into smaller pieces, 8 x 10 or so; buy at least two good sable or artist-grade synthetic brushes, a size 10 round and a size 3 or 4 round are good for starters, and a much larger synthetic "mop" for doing washes; and buy a few tubes of professional artist colors: Daniel Smith, Winsor&Newton, Schminke, Rembrandt and Utrecht are all good brands. I guarantee you'll be happier than with cheap sets and cheap paper. The difference will be apparent right away.