Still lifes hold a humorous touch


When Carole Dowling paints her still lifes in vivid colors, she likes to add a humorous touch to her titles. She once titled a small painting of stacked cups “Precarious,” and she named her still life of a cabbage “Half a Head is Better Than None.”

“I get somewhat anthropomorphic about the food I paint and the names just pop into my head,” Dowling said. “One of my instructors said that art is too important to be taken seriously – you have to have fun with it.”

Dowling, who works in oils, paints her 8-by-10-inch works a la prima - all at once - in four to six hours.

“I like to do small paintings because they’re quick, fun and lighthearted and they keep you on your toes,” she said. “People can hang the fruit and vegetable paintings in their kitchen or dining area.”

Painting in a contemporary realistic style, Dowling strives not to include too much detail.

“The trick for me is not to get obsessive when I paint realism,” she said. “I think a lot of realism painting is obsessive because artists get so much into detail when they try to make something look perfect.”

Dowling’s still lifes illustrate her ability to depict everything from the sheen on a copper teapot to the transparency of a blue glass bottle.

“I like to try and challenge myself and paint things that are a little bit difficult,” she said.

Lately Dowling is focusing on subjects that aren’t often depicted in works of art, including alleyways and the rocks around her Lake Hodges home.

“I like to paint plein air and want to do pieces that are interior/exterior views of where I live,” she said. “I want to paint the inside of my house looking out to the exterior world, and maybe include some figures on the terrace.”

She also plans to paint the many rocks she sees in her large backyard.

“I love rocks; they’re like sculptures,” she said.

Living in Southern California since 1990, Dowling is inspired by the full range of local scenery to paint, but she especially loves painting water scenes, whether they’re of the local seacoast or the lily pond at Balboa Park.

“Everyone calls it paradise here and I really believe it is,” she said.

Dowling began drawing when she was 3 years old, after receiving tremendous encouragement from her artist mother. She continued her artistic endeavors throughout grade school and went on to study art formally at the University of California at Davis (UCD) and at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) where she received a bachelor’s in fine art. She later earned a master’s in art and consciousness studies from John F. Kennedy University in Orinda.

Her art mentors include David Hollowell at UCD and Oliver Jackson at CSU. She is now taking classes with local landscape painter Pat Kelly.

“Pat Kelly taught me how to focus well, get down what I’m seeing and not think about it too much,” Dowling said.

While Dowling’s busy career as a property manager doesn’t allow her to paint everyday, she works in spurts when she can make time.

“When I go into the studio to work, things come up that I haven’t thought of before, so it’s really an exploration and that’s how I like to think of it,” she said. “I don’t think that I can accomplish anything unless I paint on a regular basis.”

Her latest still life painting features a collection of bones and flowers. The bones are cow vertebrae with abstract shapes. Part of one is shaped like a heart.

While painting, Dowling always focuses more on the art itself rather than the opportunity to make a sale.

“I don’t want to fall into the routine of painting things that I think will sell,” she said. “I love to sell paintings and love it when people love my work, but my main focus has always been to be true to the work.”

Dowling is currently showing a painting depicting a beer stein and pomegranates in the San Diego Art Institute’s Museum of the Living Artist, and she is also displaying her “Fiesta Ware” piece in the current show at the Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild.

On Sept. 7, Dowling will exhibit her work in a booth at the Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild’s “Finer Art Affaire” event.

To view Dowling’s work, visit