Frank Stella : Darabjerd III

Overview Artist Biography Planning Ahead Materials & Setup Class Discussion Project Directions Reflections Downloads & Resources Docent Forum


20 1/8 in. x 180 1/4 in.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., USA
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972
Photo Credit: Lee Stalsworth
© 2007 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York , NY, USA

In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze Stella’s painting Darabjerd III and learn about his use of the Minimalist style;
  • Identify radial symmetry, tertiary colors, and hard-edge shapes;
  • Describe Stella’s use of balance and variations on a theme;
  • Draw a variety of composition based on the protractor shape;
  • Create color studies based on the protractor shape using tempera paint.

Lesson Teaching Notes

A document of summary pages on the lesson’s Key Concepts, Discussion Questions, Artist Points, and Project Directions.

Print Teaching Notes Share Your Feedback


Skip To:

Materials and Setup

Materials List
  • color wheels
  • Digital Device (e.g. computer or tablet)
  • Digital Paint App on the device
    • Some suggestions: Adobe Draw , Brushes Redux, Paper 53, Sketch Pad, or Sketchbook Edu – some are iPad and/or Android apps, some may have computer versions as well.
Setup Directions
  • Preload digital devices with the desired digital paint app.
  • Familiarize yourself with the user interface of the digital paint app.
  • Consider having a separate short class session to learn about the digital paint app, before teaching a digital art lesson.

Photos of Setup

Class Discussion

Why is Stella's style called Minimalism?
Play Video From Here
Style - Minimalism/Formal Elements/Abstract

Stella’s style is called Minimalism because it minimalizes, or reduces most of the elements, such as line and shape, in order to explore the relationships of another element, color. In his early work, he used only straight black and white lines and rectangular shapes to explore simple geometric relationships. His Protractor Series uses one shape, the semi-circular protractor shape, and explores the effect of many colors. Stella’s modern work includes layers of varied shapes with brightly painted patterns.

In this painting Stella limits the formal elements of line and shape to explore the relationships of colors. Stella avoids using texture by careful painting, and he limits the importance of line by making all the white outlines the same width, and by repeating the thick protractor outlines. Space, or depth is a subtle result of the relationship of adjoining color s. Stella says of his own work, “What you see is what you see,” because he denied the use of illusions to show distance or symbolism. The protractor series of 1967 to 1971 includes very large shaped canvases combining permutations of geometric shapes filled with advancing and receding colors separated by a fine line of raw canvas.

Certain colors send messages to our brains that make us feel emotions, such as calmness, anger, happiness, or sadness. Red and pink are exciting colors, whereas blue and green are calming. All of Stella’s work is non-objective, with no recognizable subject. The subject is color, and the way it makes you feel.

How did Stella arrange the colors?
Play Video From Here
Color - Analogous/Tertiary

Analogous, or related shades of red, pink, and violet are used in all the semi-circles. Analogous colors are next to each other on a color wheel. In this painting, reds are arranged in contrasting wedges, and analogous shades of blue are next to each other. Analogous colors give unity and connect the protractors to each other.

There are several shades of primary and secondary colors. There are also tertiary colors, mixed from primary and secondary colors. Find yellow-green, red-orange, and blue-violet.

Which colors have the highest value?
Play Video From Here
Color - Value

Value is the lightness or darkness of a color. High-value colors appear lighter. The red outlines and wedges have a high value. Red mixed with white makes pink, which has a high value because it reflects more light. Orange has a higher value when mixed with white. Brown and blue are lower-value colors than red and yellow. They reflect less light. When mixed with white, brown and blue have a higher value. Placing a color next to a contrasting color increases its value, or brightness. Blue next to red makes the blue appear brighter that it does next to darker blue.

Does this picture look calm or exciting?
Play Video From Here
Color - Intensity

Intensity describes the brightness of a color. Pure colors are more intense than colors mixed with a darker color. Red is more intense than maroon. Yellow is more intense than gold. Bright green is more intense than brownish green. Intensity affects the feeling or mood that colors create. Pink and red colors add excitement to the shapes. Blue shades are calming. The combinations of colors create different moods.

Play song Roy G. Biv.

How do symmetry and asymmetry create movement in this work?
Play Video From Here
Design - Radial Symmetry/Asymmetry/Harmony/Unity

Wedges radiate from a central point on the border to even slots along the edge, demonstrating radial symmetry, or balance in the circular shape.

With such a simple shape, wanting to avoid boring repetition, Stella combined the shapes in asymmetrical configurations, varying the colors to show movement.

The repetition of the color red and analogous pink in the borders and wedges creates harmony that unites the composition. In the pink-bordered semi-circle the border becomes the central wedge, and it is repeated in the bottom wedge of the central shape. Darker values of red are repeated in each semi-circle.

By limiting his design to a simple, repeated shape, Stella was able to concentrate on color. The repeated colors and shapes unify this composition.

If these figures could move, where would they go?
Play Video From Here
Design - Movement

The circular shape is ready to roll, but the seated semicircle stops it from moving forward. The wedges, like spokes in a wheel, seem to move on their own. Would they move in a straight line? Would they move from front to back in space? In the format of the picture, the space is 2-D. Movement from side to side is implied by the extension of the radial lines.

Shape - Flat/Geometric
Play Video From Here
Shape - Flat/Geometric

In the Protractor series, Stella arranged flat colors in variations of the semi-circular shape of a protractor. By limiting shapes he was able to emphasize the colors. There are 3 semicircular protractor shapes, each with radiating wedges inside them and chevron-like arcs where two shapes overlap.

The simple geometric shapes of circle, semi-circle, and wedge are repeated to create a predictable composition.

How do lines simplify this composition?
Play Video From Here
Line - Implied/Hard edge/Converging

Wedges of the single semicircle and the center semi circle overlap, forming an implied edge that becomes the wedge of the other circle.

The wedges have hard edges, with precise, even borders. They look like they were painted by a machine. Stella tried to avoid showing the gesture of his paintbrush. A thin white line outlines all but 3 wedges.

Each wedge converges on a point at the center of the straight edge of the semi circle. The two halves of the circle share a center point.

How does this composition show depth?
Play Video From Here
Space - Format/Overlap

These semicircles are painted on a shaped canvas with a horizontal, rounded format.

The center point of each semi circle is hidden under the straight edge of the border, which overlaps the tips of the wedges.

Download Discussion Questions
Download Key Concepts


Project Directions

Color Fans


Before starting this project, download the Protractor Template jpeg from the Downloads and Resources section on the AiA website.

  1. Create a new project or canvas.
  2. Set background color to black. If your app doesn’t have this capability, color the entire layer with a large brush.
  3. Import the protractor image from your photo library and place the photo underneath the drawing layer.
  4. Select a pen or paintbrush tool, set its thickness to medium, and set its color to white.
  5. Trace the protractor’s outline. If your app has the straight-line tool, use it to trace the horizontal lines.
  6. Divide the semicircle into six wedges, use the straight-line tool if available. Draw a vertical line down the center of the half circle, and then split the two halves of the semicircle into thirds. Delete the photo layer, and touch up your outline if need-be.
  7. Duplicate your outline layer two times to create three total layers with one protractor outline on each layer.
  8. Move and rotate the shapes in each layer using the app’s rotate tool. If you can’t find transform the layers, you may have to cut and paste each layer onto itself in order to move the protractors around. Try different arrangements of the three layers to find an interesting composition.
  9. Color each semicircles wedges in the following manner: 2 Analgous Colored Semicircles (neighboring colors on the color wheel) and 1 Complimentary Colored Semicircle (opposite colors on the color wheel).
  10. Change your background image to compliment the semicircles.
  11. Save to gallery and start a new project!


If paint app does not have layers, moving objects is not available, as shown in the video.

Create a new layer for each object you draw (like table, etc.). Make sure layers are set to 100% opacity.



Skip To:

Student Gallery


Taking you to the Forum...