For beginners or others wishing to expand their ability, the choice of colors and pigment is often overwhelming. With the fancy and often ridiculous names like Parisian blue or Autumn mist and the myriad of tints and shades, one is bound to ask where one should start? Because paints can be expensive, it makes sense to start with a few from which an infinite variation of colors can be made.
Do not buy a set as the manufacturer decides for you what colors it contains when each color is sold individually. Many are man made mixture of others colors. Then to each color, various amount of white are added to create lighter tints with different names and black to create darker shades. Simply buy some basic colors and add them to other colors or add more black or white. Because mixing colors takes practice, it is easier and less expensive to start with fewer.
The major brands offer high quality paints that have been endlessly tested and must meet the demands of professional artists. Buy less but buy the best grades of paints. They contain a much higher quality of permanent ingredients and pigments, less fillers, and the results will be more encouraging. With oil, try to stay with one brand as each uses a slightly different oil base and may be more or less compatible with another.
Use odorless mineral spirit to dilute oil paint or clean brushes and, water for watercolor and acrylics. Shelves in art supply stores are filled with additional products, gadgets, glazes, additives, dryers, etc, that only enrich their manufacturer. They are mostly unnecessary and challenging to use well. The paints that you buy contain all you need.
I suggest the colors listed below, which are made of specific and well known pigments. All of these are lightfast and non toxic. While they may be listed under different names, the staff at any art supply store will be able to guide you. With oil, I suggest that you buy 37ml tubes for a start and the smaller tubes or jars for acrylics. Purchase professional or artist quality not a beginners or student grade.
Titanium white. Opaque and smooth, the color you will use most to add to every other color, buy a larger tube.
Mars Black. Opaque and fast drying. What most people think as black.
Yellow cadmium medium. A beautiful and expensive yellow but necessary with a high tinting strength.
Yellow cadmium lemon. The color of lemon or of the sun. Both of these yellow are usually diluted with much white.
Viridian or emerald green. The color of bright spring leaves and grass.
Chromium oxide. To obtain olive or army greens. A unique and necessary color that can not be obtained by mixing.
French Ultramarine blue. I prefer its color to Cobalt blue, a personal preference.
Cerulean blue. Expensive, but a unique and lovely color associated with the color of the sky.
Medium Cadmium red. Intense and fire truck red.
Alizarin. A deeper and darker red.
Dioxine violet. An intensely deep violet with high tinting strength (a little goes a long way).
Burnt sienna. A deep red earth.
Van Dyke brown. Like dark chocolate.
Voilà. While not a comprehensive list, I would be pleased if left on a desert island with these. Start with them before experimenting with others and read about the different pigments. Learn how they are made, of minerals, organic or synthetics and where they come from. How well they add to light. The story of pigments is fascinating. Did you know that sepia, the color of old photographs, is made from the ink of octopus?