I have settled, for now at least, on a watercolor palette that I think gives me good flexibility. And delight! You could certainly make do with fewer colors, but I love the pigments just for themselves. It’s amazing how modern technology has brought such beautiful pigments and hues within the reach of so many people, when once a dab of lapis lazuli (ultramarine blue), for example, cost a fortune. I’ve arranged my colors in an approximate color wheel (complementaries more or less opposite each other).

My watercolor palette as a color wheel.

I’ve assigned a number to each color, and noted their pigment numbers. Because color names are so imprecise, and the same name can be made from different pigments and look quite different from different vendors, it is best to think in terms of pigments. Vendors use a consistent numbering system to reference the base pigments, and these numbers are shown on the tubes. The pigments are the usually mineral constituents of the colors, often immersed in a binder such as gum arabic. (The best online guides to pigments I’ve found are by Bruce MacEvoy and Jane Blundell.) Many people prefer single-pigment colors rather than mixes (which vendors call “hues”). I’m generally among them, but there are some hues that are also beautiful and behave well, so I have chosen some of these too. I’ve numbered my colors 1-12 according to their position on a 12-segment (tertiary) wheel. (Sometimes there is more than one pigment within one of the twelve slices, in which case they are numbered things like 7, 7.1 (falling between 7 and 8), etc. Earth tones appear in a fairly narrow segment of the wheel, and are lettered A-F. Payne’s Gray occupies the center.