Get The Time Between

Matthew Marchand is an artist and new father. He reflects on studio time with his son.


I moved out of my studio three weeks before my wife gave birth for two reasons: time and toxicity. I planned on staying home with the baby, and when would I find eight contiguous, free hours again? The studio was full of toxic chemicals that my hands would transfer to the sweet, fragile, highly absorbent infant I would soon hold. No more studio meant no more painting at scale in oil on stretched canvas or with any level of sustained private concentration. From then on it would be watercolors, pencil, gouache, or acrylics on paper that fit on our dining room table. Gone was the moment to turn an image over in my head, holding it there until some swerve sauntered up and shook my hand. Now the five foot walk from the kitchen might lead my wife (looking up from feeding our son) to point at some new paint and say, “Oooh, I like this, is it finished?” Which isn’t as bad as walking in from the kitchen to find my 18 month old furiously scribbling on a monochrome with ball point pen. Kids want to do what is important to their parents ON what is important to their parents. My fault for leaving the pen and painting within reach.

The months leading up to the move found me either sick or recovering from surgery. This lost time disrupted my chance to finish projects and tidy up my mind. As all the never-going-to-be-finished drawings, paintings, and notebooks hit the dumpster on moving day, I wondered if, after the baby was born, finding the time to revive lost projects was possible. It hasn’t been, but it also hasn’t been necessary to search. That flustered gap between well-laid studio plans and my hospital visits was novelistic foreshadowing for parenting.

Our son had not entered this world easily, nearly departing as soon as he’d arrived, leaving my wife with an abnormally long post-natal recovery. Her three months of maternity leave were liminal, a fraught time, flush with the anxiety and joy precipitated by the fog of parenting. Before her maternity leave ended I needed to make something to find out if I could and if I couldn’t. I didn’t know then that Dadness could be enough to make me happy. What got made had to be small, quick, and easily finished, devoid of thought and emotion, expression without action because we didn’t have emotion to spare. Where to restart making things? Without a map I divided our dining room table into half diaper changing station, half “studio”, and began to steal ten (non-consecutive) minutes a day where I watched my hands make monochromes. I wanted them to be weightless, simple; nothing more than exercises in holding a two inch brush, without realizing that their gravity held them in place. That ten minutes and the little veils of color satisfied without making me absent to my¬†family.