Squeak Carnwath has a distinctive and recognizable style which combines diaristic and personal elements with universal or existential themes. Her paintings "combine text and images on abstract fields of color to express sociopolitical and spiritual concerns." She has described herself ironically as a "painting chauvinist" due to an abiding preference for that medium, although she is also an accomplished printmaker and has created sophisticated Jacquard tapestries, artist books, and mixed media works in addition to her oil and alkyd works on canvas.
In an essay for a Flintridge Foundation catalog, Noriko Gamblin describes the evolution of Carnwath's approach to composition and subject matter:
The work for which Carnwath first became widely known in the mid- and late 1980s is characterized by simple, iconic images and words floating like astral bodies within monochromatic or bichromatic fields. The images represent common things—chairs, vessels, bones, feet, genitalia, flowers, birds, houses, and so on—using rudimentary forms and emphatic black outlines. The words or passages of text, rendered in an ingenuous and expressive script, catalogue and comment on various aspects of existence, such as the affinities that unite seemingly unrelated objects and the essential differences (e.g., between that divide them. Simultaneously comic and grave in tenor, these pictures evoke the free-ranging ruminations of a daydreaming mind as it encounters the myriad phenomena of daily life and tries to make sense of them... engaging an ever-evolving constellation of preoccupations and investigations: how we know things, what we know, the nature of memory, perception, passion, time, and death.
Although Carnwath quickly established a distinctive personal style, some aspects of her work have undergone gradual transformations. The strongly geometric structure— characterized by grids, quadrants, and contrasting color bands and fields—of her paintings of the 1980s and early 1990s has loosened into more fluid arrangements of diverse elements, which include structural motifs as well as "decorative" patterns. Similarly, her iconography, which was initially tied to a relatively circumscribed personal symbology, has both expanded and grown more allusive. The early lists, litanies, injunctions, and poetic observations have been joined by more casual notations, which often lend a topical immediacy to her work.