Frederick’s Favorite Face: Martin Graff And The Face Zone

So, what do you get when a thought grows into a doodle…Into hundreds of doodles…Then into a collected book with accompanying writing… Finally becoming a live stage show with video and original music? You get The Face Zone.

I like to think that all human beings have creative potential that expresses itself in a myriad of ways, but there are some to whom art especially calls. I had the distinct pleasure of getting to know such a character after seeing his work at Artomatic Frederick 2016. Martin (Marty) Graff is an illustrator, writer, spoken-word performer, musician and teacher. His story is probably similar to most who discover more about themselves as they watch their lives unfold, but it is also unique to his own talents, personality and experiences.Martin Graff - The Face Zone

The Meandering Journey

Currently, Marty’s “day job” is teaching high school English as a Second Language (ESL). Years prior, he earned a bachelor’s degree in music composition and piano performance, and came very close to a career in music. In his own words, however, he eventually “burned out” on that endeavor, so Marty returned to school for two additional degrees, both Master’s in education: one in Teaching English as a Second Language and another in Curriculum and Instruction for English Language Arts. Marty is a passionate, accomplished educator and was a 2015 finalist for Frederick County Public Schools Teacher of the Year. He inspires and challenges students to not only learn but to exercise critical and creative thinking, two essential skills in all of life’s aspects.

But when you are an artist, the art continues to call until you have to make room for it…

The Face Zone – Surreal Daydreams to Trip Your Imagination

As an artist, Marty “illustrates faces―human, animal, alien, abstract―and adds poetic prose to each,” creating an editorial glimpse of our everyday existence that can be whimsical, insightful, thought-provoking, moving, comical, inspirational… any number of effects depending on the topic of the drawing and writing. What connects the material is that each piece “begins with some kind of captioned, satirical portrait of a real or imagined face to prompt reaction and thought,” the goal being to “trip the imagination.” We can find “unexpected narratives and messages in the ordinary details around us” if we pay attention.

Doodling + Wordsmithing = Mind Set in Motion. Take the piece “Edna’s Herbs,” for example:

Edna the Face Zone

Edna's Herbs

The Face Zone was far from a formal, public project in its 2001 beginning, back when Marty was only drawing and writing for himself as a way to fill the expressive void after his departure from music. Eventually, though, after amassing hundreds of interesting drawings and short texts, he felt compelled to start giving them away to friends and acquaintances in order to enjoy connecting with an audience again, however small, to complete the creative cycle—something he greatly missed and needed from his days as a composer-pianist.

By 2013, there was enough polished material and audience interest for Marty to start TheFaceZone.com, a blog where he regularly posts new drawings, writings, and videos. He more recently published The Face Zone book, which is a collection of pieces from the website and some that have yet to be posted online. You can find this unique, delightful book at Amazon.com: The Face Zone.

Marty was fortune to have parents who creatively inspired him from the start through their simple examples of artful living and their encouragement of his educational and musical endeavors; he always felt supported to investigate and follow his dreams. In the author bio of the book, Marty tells the story of how his father drew a surreal face on the inside bottom of an empty water jug with a long pencil when Marty was five years old, and how that oddly moving image stuck with the young Marty and moved him to doodle his own imaginative imagery to this day.

The Face Zone Live!

In January of 2015, Marty added spoken word to his expressive vision as part of an art show at The Griffin Center in downtown Frederick. In that live show, Marty performed some of the (memorized) writing from his book as the accompanying face drawings shone on a large screen beside him. It was a moving success for the sizable crowd in attendance, so Marty scheduled and promoted additional shows at The Artist Angle Gallery, The Delaplaine, 505 North Gallery and Studio, and Artomatic Frederick, each with increasing polish and community attendance. Adding the real-time performance created a dynamic and moving opportunity for listeners to be invited into Marty’s world, like when you see a live band and it draws you to explore their recorded albums (in this case, a book). The Face Zone Live show inspires us to consider what a rich tapestry our lives are and to uncover “essential truths about this wild existence we’re all a part of.” Marty hopes that his musings will encourage people to notice the world in a new way, and that his words and images will continue to resonate in our heads long after the performance is over.

Here is an entertaining clip of “The Sun Always Sets” from Marty’s performance at The Artist Angle in 2015:

And of his near-death experience as told in “Twinkles in the Sea” at Artomatic Frederick in 2016:

What’s Next for The Face Zone?

The Face Zone is a growing, ongoing endeavor. Now that the project has a live component, Marty plans to reincorporate his musical side by performing his live piano compositions between speaking pieces during the show, bringing his expression full circle to include his first love of music. What a full experience that will be! I’m looking forward to the next evolution of The Face Zone, and to Martin Graff’s delightful and inspiring musings about life. Here’s to finding what you love and letting it consume you!  I am reminded of a quote that has often inspired me:

 “Art is born in attention… the capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Or, as Marty said at the close of one of his shows, “Now get out there—and notice the world!”

Enjoy More of the Face Zone

Be sure to like The Face Zone on Facebook for updates on upcoming shows and other news. Visit The Face Zone Website for updated drawings and writings. If you would like to see more live videos, go to The Face Zone on YouTube. And some afternoon, stop by Marty’s favorite spot, Bushwaller’s Pub, in downtown Frederick. Chances are good he’ll be there working on new material, and you’ll get to enjoy a good conversation if you stop to say hello.

Karen Highland

I'm a real estate agent, real estate blogger, communications director, a wife, mom (empty nest - yay!), dog-lover, and wine-lover. Frederick Md is a great place to live, work and brag about! The Highland Group. 301-401-5119 Google

Leave a Reply