Evil Penguin Sighted in Oakland

I love old tin and cast toys. The shapes are cartoony and the colors are vibrant, yet the faces of the characters can be rather disturbing! Instead of painting a bowl of fruit or vase full of flowers, I set up a still life with these toys from my collection. Here is a photo of a few.


Master of War Tin and Cast Toys



Sketches helped me decide which ones I liked. The penguin is my favorite.



master of war toy pencil sketches

As I was working, I was playing Dylan’s album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. One track, Masters of War, has always both intrigued and slightly upset me. This song is just as appropriate today as it was when written in 1963, during the Vietnam War.



master of war blog album cover



If you’re not familiar with the song, here is a YouTube link (www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ElaYPo8B90) and the lyrics. Because of copyright infringement, Dylan’s original music is often removed from the web, and then resurfaces, so if this link doesn’t work, just Google Masters of War, and listen carefully to the words.


Come you masters of war

You that build all the guns

You that build the death planes

You that build the big bombs

You that hide behind walls

You that hide behind desks

I just want you to know

I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin’

But build to destroy

You play with my world

Like it’s your little toy

You put a gun in my hand

And you hide from my eyes

And you turn and run farther

When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old

You lie and deceive

A world war can be won

You want me to believe

But I see through your eyes

And I see through your brain

Like I see through the water

That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers

For the others to fire

Then you set back and watch

When the death count gets higher

You hide in your mansion

As young people’s blood

Flows out of their bodies

And is buried in the mud

You’ve thrown the worst fear

That can ever be hurled

Fear to bring children

Into the world

For threatening my baby

Unborn and unnamed

You ain’t worth the blood

That runs in your veins

How much do I know

To talk out of turn

You might say that I’m young

You might say I’m unlearned

But there’s one thing I know

Though I’m younger than you

Even Jesus would never

Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question

Is your money that good

Will it buy you forgiveness

Do you think that it could

I think you will find

When your death takes its toll

All the money you made

Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die

And your death’ll come soon

I will follow your casket

In the pale afternoon

And I’ll watch while you’re lowered

Down to your deathbed

And I’ll stand o’er your grave

’Til I’m sure that you’re dead

master of war blog final pencil sketc composition

Drawing this innocent-looking tank and the happy wind-up toy zebra gave me the idea that a simple juxtaposition of these items could tell a serious story.

Here is the final oil painting.  I call it Master of War – a reference to the evil penguin giving orders to the tank that attacked our little zebra.

master of war final painting

Here are some close-ups.

No blood. No menacing expressions.  Just the way these toys are positioned.

I was surprised that it even makes me a bit uncomfortable.



master of war blog penguin closeup




master of war blog close up of painting



It was a crazy coincidence – my friend Ruth Santee owns The Transmission Gallery in Oakland, California, and it just so happens their next exhibit is Armed Medium: The Military Vehicle as Subject.

I’ve been invited to show Master of War in this exhibit later this summer. Go to The Transmission Gallery’s Facebook page to read more about the show. 




This is an excerpt from the gallery statement about tanks as a conceptual theme.

” . . . their metaphor as a symbol of masculinity and power but also as a literal vehicle of entrapment, death and disaster, something that protects and destroys. A strange human exoskeleton.”


I wasn’t planning on hanging the painting in an exhibit but when I received the invitation, I wanted to do something a bit different.

Here’s the frame while I was in the process of painting it.  First I gessoed it, and then with a Sharpie pen drew humorous tanks parading around the perimeter.


blog raw  frame copy


Next, I painted the cartoons in oil paint.


And here it is when I dropped in the painting.



blog painted frame



Too bright, IMO. It’s way too zoomy, and competes with the main artwork. I decided to do a number of white glazes over the cartoon tanks to knock it back so the frame wouldn’t compete with the painting. You can still see them, but they’re less dominant.

Here is is the framed painting in its finished state.

This was an exciting opportunity to rediscover how much fun it is to paint in oil – and actually have the work shown.  A win/win situation.

Maybe I’ll be doing more cartoon work on canvas with oil paint.



blog white washed Framed Master of War




15 Responses to “Evil Penguin Sighted in Oakland”

  1. Karl, What a way to find a new medium! Seems that listening to a tune that’s always “moved” you nudged you however unconsciously toward casting a pair of known objects (the penguin and the zebra) — toys no less — into new and disturbing roles: that of perpetrator and victim. The tank is always a tank yet the toy tank invites us to witness the disturbing truth of war: War is not a toy.

    Nice going — do more!

    All the best,

  2. Bruce Beach says:


    You never cease to amaze me, thanks for sharing with us your God given talent!


  3. Always original! Thanks for sharing this clever idea, art style and re-newedly (yes, not a real word) art objects!
    Susan Pace-Koch
    Get Out Books

  4. Bridget says:


    Holy Toledo! These sketches along with your final piece are incredible. Love, love, love. Please keep us filled in on how the show goes. I’d love to hear the responses you get (which I’m sure will be must as positive).

    Thanks for posting your process!

    Bridget Backus McBride
    Spotted Dog Creative

  5. Jan Eliot says:

    This is so INTERESTING… Thank you for sharing your step by step … I love seeing what you did with your cartoony images, the painting method, the frame idea and then the fix. Very cool and wonderful result! Gives me hope I might do something outside of newsprint someday. Or, I’ll just keep watching you do cool stuff. Thanks, Karl!

  6. Debbi Hansing Leto says:

    Simply put….I love everything about this post! Thank you for sending it. You are such an awesome combination of talent and intellect.
    Keep sharing, please.

  7. Vida Pavesich says:

    Terrific Karl! I love how you incorporated your process into this. Great idea. I’ll be sure to see the show, although I won’t be able to attend the opening.


  8. Heather Rush says:

    At first glance this looks like a sweet picture a child would love, then you look at the expression on the penguin general, the tank, and the dead zebra and the painting is much darker. Just like the masters of war draw us in with their rhetoric, you draw us in with engaging symbols, and then leave us with the awful outcome. Well done.

  9. Addoley says:

    The penguin is definitely creepy, with that stern look on his face and tense, pinched beak. Thanks for sharing the song as well … really interesting to view the painting and reflect on the lyrics. I really really like the preliminary drawings. Keep blogging, it’s great!

  10. Becky Heydorff says:

    Congratulations, Mr. K!

    Once again, you entertain and enlighten us with your artistic interpretation: likening your toy collection to a representation of war! I was initially assuming there was a bit of sarcasm, in your sinister reference…an evil looking, Mr. Penguin?
    I admire your immense artistic talent; however, I also appreciate your ability to provide us with an opportunity to reflect, upon the subject of war and where we are today…sadly, still at war.

    Keep it coming!
    L, B

    “My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.” – George Washington

  11. Wayne Lo says:

    Wow, I love the fantastic narrative of how this piece came into being! I’ve only seen your mega-computer and digitizer pad, so I was unaware of the amazing work you’re doing in ‘real life’ media.

  12. ClaireP says:

    All I can say is “wow, Karl”! OK, I can say more. This is amazing. You are amazing. The more I read and looked at your art, the more I was fascinated. You have tackled an (unfortunately) age-old subject in a most creative way. Keep it coming!

  13. Stu Wolfson says:

    Karl, u da man ! outstanding work.

  14. My daughter, Lynne Gibbons, told me about meeting you, and about your work. It was a revelation to visit your web site. As an old, ex-artist/illustrator, I commend not only your obvious talent, but the message therein.

  15. This is amazing too. However, it is interesting to me as a women pushing 64 how many fans there are of my age of Bob dylan. Don’t get me wrong. The man has talent as a songwriter. But he cannot carry a tune! My brother loved him too!

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