Category Archives: Traditions

When do you call yourself an artist?

A creative streak comes naturally to me. It shows itself in my home decorating, in my bright colored and stylish clothing, shoes and purses, and all the creative avenues that I’ve partaken in – such as sewing, crocheting knitting macramé, embroidery, cross stitching, cooking and cookbook writing, video blogging and for a very long time, about a lifetime ago, Dollhouseminiatures. During that period of creating I won many ribbons for my miniature projects, mostly from scratch.  

Does being creative give you the right to call yourself an artist? Suddenly I have that question in my mind.

Are you a creative, do you call yourself an artist?

Over the past 3 1/2 years, I turn the corner on my creativity. I can give credit to Jennifer. It all started when my daughter fell in love with the art of Romero Brito. Spontaneously, I took out my markers (because as a teacher with experience in primary school education, you always have markers. Teaching students a language requires the use of the philosophy that using art to draw concepts cements the vocabulary). I put together a drawing, trying to emulate his work. One month later, after returning from Sri Lanka, the vision of the palm trees on the beaches of the Indian Ocean were still in my brain. So one day without forethought, I sketched a palm tree. It was lame as it was, but it started the whole ball rolling.

A few months later I went to Italy. As a lone female traveler, I decided to go the safe route and take a six-day workshop with an artist in the north of Tuscany. When a friend Peter saw my Italy sketches, he beamed, asking me if I would draw sketches of the tea making process for his book about Tea in China. Was the Pope Catholic, I thought? I jumped at the opportunity. It gave me a focus for my art because at that point when I was flitting around with Zentangle Art and Mandalas and other topics with no real focus. 

Pizza Oven In Italy sketch

Pizza Oven In Italy sketch

One of the 25 sketches of the tea making process in China

One of the 25 sketches of the tea making process in China

Peter designed my first Chinese Chop with the characters that said “LiZhi (my name Lichee in Chinese), Artist”.

Could I call myself an artist then? Well honestly no, I couldn’t, although I continue to use the stamp to this day. 

My Chinese Chop

My Chinese Chop

Knowing that I didn’t have enough knowledge and experience about watercolor painting, I attended a weekly Kunming art studio for over a year and got a good grip on how to paint realistic art with watercolors. Learning to see the colors, color mixing, shading, shadows, I tried to learn everything. The owner of the studio offered to do a 2-day art exhibition of all of my paintings and sketches (35 in total) — and it was a huge success. Around that time a friend bought one of my favourite Chinese paintings also. 

Could I call myself an artist after that? Crazy as it sounds, no, I knew I still had a lot to learn.

Getting back to teacher art and markers, my proclivity is to small, meticulous details with paper and fine liners and pencils and markers and ink and erasers and rulers in drawings (maybe I should have been an architect, and I do love perspective, which I’m not terribly good at until now). But I still wanted to continue to stretch my skill, watching YouTube and Craftsy videos of artists teaching painting or sketching techniques. Also attending sketching workshops in Florida helped to improve my experience. (Do you see the theme here of travel and art in my life??)

Bradenton, Florida workshop 2-page spread

Bradenton, Florida workshop 2-page spread

Quite recently I developed an interest in having a more loose style. I spent the morning painting with an artist named Dan Whalen, who goes out with the Toronto Urban Sketchers group, because I really like his freer style of sketching and painting. I knew that if I wanted to try to go out sketching on location again, I would have to have that kind of style too. Why, because you don’t have enough time to finish when you’re out, so you need to be quick, and expressive in your sketching, representing the scene in front of you, all before the rain comes or the sun gets too hot or the shadows move.

Just two weeks ago, I met a lovely Singaporean artist, Beng Choo. She is an experienced artist and we have started the Urban Sketchers Kunming group in Kunming China. We meet every Friday morning and have sketched some wonderful ancient Chinese buildings while dodging the rain and the hot sun.

Then binge watching Ian Fennelly videos has really motivated me. Will I go to the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Hong Kong in April and take a class with Marc Taro Holmes because I’m a 1.5 hour flight away, or to Venice in May for 6 days and learn from Ian? I am considering it all. Because my art has moved away from a very detail-oriented style to towards a more expressive style. 

In my quest to learn all I can, and with an art school within a 5-minute walk from my home, I just began a 10-week course, ‘Song Dynasty Chinese Painting on Silk’, which uses traditional Chinese black ink and painting techniques but with Kuretake watercolour paints. The process is very slow and detailed, with many steps so far. I have only learned how to paint the outlines on silk with ink and how to mount and stretch the silk onto a wooden frame. My teacher, Peng, says it takes 10 2-hour classes to complete, but that I am a fast learner!!!!

[Starting in 960 and ending in 1279, the Song Dynasty consisted of the Northern Song (960-1127) and the Southern Song (1127-1279). With a prosperous economy and radiant culture, this period was considered as another period of ‘golden age’ after the glorious Tang Dynasty (618 – 907).]

My first painting will be a copy of a Song Dynasty painting of crab apple flowers and my background is a soft beige colour, not this dark, boring colour.

Song Dynasty Crab Apple Flowers

Original silk painting of Song Dynasty crab apple flowers


Do I have the right to call myself an artist now? Have l earned that right yet? I guess the answer is I have to feel it in my heart, and my heart tells me that I am able to represent the feelings I have when I do art so much better than when I first embarked on my art journey a time ago. Stay tuned for more on the answer!

Remembrances of Passovers Past

Bubie Weitzman and Roz

Bubie Weitzman and Roz

Bubie and Saidie Weitzman lived at 475 Major Street in Toronto, a tall 2-storey row house with a not-so-small storage place on the first floor in the hallway, under the staircase that went upstairs. Cleaning, getting rid of the Chumetz (any non-Passover foods and dirt) and changing over to Passover dishes and pots and pans was a ritual before Passover. When I was 7 or 8, it was my job to help my Bubie get out the Passover dishes from under the steps in the small storage place with my little brother. The space was too small for her to get into and besides she had a bad leg. It was always wrapped in white bandages to cover the gangrene in her leg, the scourges of untreated diabetes.

Aaron and Bubie Weitzman were devoutly orthodox and lived that way until my grandfather passed when I was 10 years old. With coal in the basement and ice in the icebox, it was a comfortable life. Bubbie always sat on a wooden box in front of the kitchen counter. She had a wooden cutting board that pulled out from under the counter and she always wore a white apron, slicing, dicing and cooking with her leg up on another wooden box.

Passover was a big event. At their house long tables were set up for all the people who would attend. They held big Passover Seders with Zaidie leading the prayers, always smiling because of his family being together and the 2 of his grandchildren who has been born by that time.. The Seders wouldn’t begin until the men had returned for synagogue and the meal wouldn’t begin until late into the evening.

The two first nights of Passover honour our escape from bondage in Egypt and the story was retold during each and every, very long Seder. At one point, I would recite the Four Questions in Hebrew. I had attended Jewish school on Sundays at the synagogue at Allan Road and Eglington Avenue for several years so could do it well…all along, my grandfather Qvelling! That was a highlight of the Seder for me.  Kosher sweet Manishewitz wine would be drunk in crystal glasses and the red wine would be dropped in our plates like the blood of our forefathers. Each of the 10 drops represent the 10 plagues.

It was always so exciting for the children to steal the Afikomen (the one piece of matzo that was separated from the rest) from my grandfather when he left the table to wash his hands. We would hide it and after the meal we would auction it off so that he could finish the rest of the Seder with the promise of a new bike or a gift of money (no money could be exchanged at the time but the promise was always kept!) Throughout the Seders it such a joyful time, with all the Passover Seder songs that everyone knew the words and the melody for, singing along in unison.

Traditions Carry On:

Celebrating religious holidays with family was a must – and my grandparents passed on this tradition to my daughter and I. Every year for Passover in my Bubie’s honour, I make Egg Noodles with no Chumetz (wheat flour or leavening), the same recipe that she used all those years ago. And I honoured my grandparents with my own long tables for Seders, dressed with white table cloths, the best china and silver, welcome any friends and family who may not have a seder to go to. Including many Gentile friends to celebrate the Pesach (Passover) together.

My shopping for all the ingredients for my own Seders included boxes and boxes of Matzo,  eggs for the eggs and salt water, and briskets for the main course, and egg yolks for the huge pot of chicken soup, and boiling the matzo balls, and chicken livers for chopped liver, and Charoses made with apples, walnuts, honey and red wine, carrot tsimis with knedlach, along with many other delicacies.  I would joyfully commiserate with Jewish women all over the world, in their kitchens, doing the very same thing to keep the traditions of Passover for the generations to come.

History: My grandparents, Aaron and Sophie Weitzman, Orthodox Jews, came from Warsaw, Poland to escape the pogroms, and for a better life. The streets of Canada, it was said, were paved with gold! They first settled in Montreal in 1920, where an affluent and influential branch of my Zaidie Weitzman’s family still live. An uncle whose last name was Crystal was a judge and a son became a politician at that time. Then the moved onto Toronto in 1922. My father, Lou Weitzman, and my Uncle Jack were both born in Canada. My grandfather sold newspapers and magazines at the corner of Yonge and Dundas Street and after a few years, opened a Dry Goods Store at 22 Walton Street next to Yonge Street. (About 10 years ago, Walton Street closed and became a part of the Delta Chelsea Hotel).

My grandfather would take orders from the affluent neighbourhoods close to Yonge Street. Rosedale was one of them, residents were Gentile and it was my father’s job, as a handsome athletic teenager to deliver the orders by bicycle. Young boys would throw stones and racist slurs about his being Jewish.

As a little girl less than 4 years old, I would sit on the counter of my grandparents’ Dry Goods Store, looking ever so cute in one of the beautiful lacy, frilly, fancy dresses that my mother sewed for me, mixing the beans up in their bins, much to the dismay of the Zaidie, although ever so proud of his little granddaughter.

When Morley got big enough, about 3 years old, we would go outside to play on the grass in the front of the house on Major Street. Morley was always a troublemaker even when he was small. He would pick up the chestnuts that had fallen from the huge chestnut tree out front of their house and throw then at passing cars or people on bicycles and even aim for me! He and I always came home with a collection of chestnuts hidden in their outer rough cover. Inside were the smooth and shiny

There were many Sunday dinners at my Bubbie and Zaidie’s house, and after the meals, we would all sit glued to the TV set, watching the Ed Sullivan Show after dinner. On one of those nights in 1964, The Beatles performed for the first time in North America. That still is a historical moment for the music industry!

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