Portrait of the Artist as a Born Instructor

Many middle schoolers can draw. Far fewer of them know how to critique the formal elements of a drawing, breaking down its use of line or shape. But then, both of Joel Edwards’ parents are professional artists who worked as college art instructors. When he was a young teen, they’d often return from outdoor painting sessions and begin constructively judging their own work. And Edwards was welcome to participate.

Joel Edwards is painting a new scheme for CANVAS.
Portrait by Karin Strickland

“From an early age, I learned how to view art in a constructive way,” he says. “We’d take a piece of work apart, critique it, offer insight. It was so valuable to have those experiences early on.”

 Edwards is still applying the lessons he learned during those enlightening moments with his parents. As the co-director (along with his wife, Jennifer Steifle Edwards) of CANVAS ArtSpace in Hendersonville, he’s been able to offer a “near-graduate level environment … where artists are working on their own stuff, and I’m there to give my insights whenever needed.” 


Though CANVAS will be closing its physical space in November, its spirit will live on in Edwards’ home studio, an 800-square-foot work room, illuminated by natural light, where he will host small classes. “It’s quite comparable to what we’re offering now, but it’s going to be more intimate,” he says. 

Edwards, who specializes in portraiture of pets and “human subjects,” as he puts it, spent 15 years in New York City, exhibiting his work, teaching middle-school art in the Bronx, and working at the prestigious Marlborough Gallery. “[In New York] I got an education in regards to what it means to exist as a professional artist,” he says. 

Self portrait

He pursued his passions further in Santa Fe, New Mexico, under the tutelage of Eric Fischl, a realist painter famous for depicting everyday people in candid suburban situations. One of the main lessons Edwards learned from Fischl was how to properly work from photographs. 

It’s not as cut-and-dried as it seems. A lot is lost when a picture is snapped; thus it’s the painter’s job to reinterpret the subject, and enhance whatever may have disappeared when an image was captured. 


However, “You can’t rely too much on a static subject or a canned experience,” Edwards points out. “It’s best to keep it more improvisational, to capture the true spirit of a subject.” Before his time with Fischl, he had worked as a studio/teaching assistant for the important abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler, who further inspired his own teaching career.

Edwards and his family relocated to Western North Carolina from a farm in the Catskills in 2016 and opened CANVAS soon thereafter. He is most proud of the relationships the studio’s artists have formed with one another, despite experimenting in differing styles and approaches. “That cross pollination of techniques and materials was beneficial for everyone,” he says. 


While the shuttering of CANVAS’s commercial space marks the end of an era, Edwards is optimistic.

“I’m excited about the new venture — I believe it’s going to be even more successful than what we’ve done in the past,” he says.


Joel Edwards, CANVAS ArtSpace, 212 South Church St., Hendersonville (through November). For information on upcoming classes or commission work, e-mail info@canvaswnc.com or visit the venue’s website: www.canvaswnc.com.

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