Practice what you teach: Area artist passes on his talents to his students

by Eren Tataragasi

Years of leftover paint from art students helped Suttle create this painting, which has become one of his favorites. Photo courtesy of Joseph Suttle

MONROE – Joseph Suttle made his first painting when he was 15 – a pheasant he painted for his grandma, using oil paint on canvas.

The painting still hangs in his dining room as a reminder of his beginnings as an artist.

And while the painting is better than most first-timers could hope for, Suttle has come a long way with his art, now creating beautiful still-life paintings and portraits using acrylic paint. He’s also expanded his horizons to create whimsical, abstract paintings.

The Shelby native also is an art teacher at Hemby Bridge Elementary.

Suttle deems himself an artist/teacher, but make no mistake, he is a professional artist.

“Teaching just takes up most of my time,” he said. But that’s only until he can retire in a few years.

Suttle didn’t always know what he wanted to be, and after high school, he took a time out from school to “settle down” before picking a career path.

In 1973 he was working in a fire tower in Ben Knob, Ga., when one day, someone from his hometown asked him to come teach an art class.

“Just that experience made me realize I might like to teach art,” he said. “They appreciated it, and I did, too, and I felt like I had something I could offer.”

So, off he went to Western Carolina University.

But while in college he became very active in church and ended up working as a minister for 10 years, which is what brought him to Monroe.

Then in 1989, 10 years after receiving his degree, he went into teaching.

He said his favorite part about his day job is, “the joy and discovery of the kids, and experiencing that through their eyes. I get joy teaching something they love, and something I love, too.”

Suttle spends his free time in his Monroe studio painting and teaching additional art classes.

When he first began painting, he focused mainly on oil painting. But in 1999 he switched to acrylic painting, and he said it’s a medium he’s still exploring.

“I’m still playing with it, really,” he said. “Just experimenting with what I can do.”

And unlike many artists who sometimes pick a subject like landscapes, or a single medium, Suttle pushes himself to try new things, which is why his collected works are so varied.

In his portfolio you see portraits of a young Haitian girl using a Hoola-Hoop, or his two young children shell hunting on a North Carolina beach. In the same portfolio, you can see what looks like a beautiful stained glass piece that’s actually just layers upon layers of acrylic paint.

His favorite piece? Well, there’s two.

One is a portrait of his father, incorporating those abstract images, and another is a piece he created with a little help from his students.

In his studio, Suttle had an easel where students would tape their canvas or paper and paint. When the students removed their piece, there would be an outline of the paper where they’d painted over the edges. After years of students doing the same thing, Suttle was left with a canvas that had all sorts of colors and squares on it, and instead of seeing the canvas as something that needed to be tossed, he saw an opportunity.

“I took that and I layered it, added a series of circles, and made it a work of art,” he said. “It’s my favorite because it’s all those years of working with my students, all intertwined.”

Suttle’s work has appeared in The Artist’s Magazine and he’s had exhibitions at the Greenville Museum of Art and One Boston Place, in Boston, Mass. Locally, you can see some of his work at Bosswell’s Salvage Company sandwich shop, 2741 Old Monroe Road, Stallings.

To see more of Suttle’s work, visit him on Facebook at And for more information on his classes, or the paintings you see, email Suttle at

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