FOUR POINTS: Flames dying? Rekindle your fire for magic

March 24th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

fire

It happens to us all. No matter how much we love magic, our batteries wear down and we find ourselves in a funk. Not a get-stuck-in-your-head uptown kind of funk, but a bored-beyond-belief blue funk.

How does that happen? Especially with this beautiful secret art?

Magic is magic, but humans are humans. We’re gonna get bored. The flames die down. Though we eventually mature and realize that while the glowing coals and embers of a fire are a lot more valuable and functional than all those pretty dancing flames, seeing the flames disappear still disheartens us.

Whether you’re a hobbyist or avocate who enjoys all that magic has to offer, or you’re a professional using your sleight of hand to feed your family, dealing with doldrums is critical. Your ability to impress and amaze depends directly on your ability to get excited about your art.

So how do you get the fire burning again? It depends on how the flames died:

MAKE A PLAN

Review your list of goals or plans. Are they still fresh? Do they point to a location that … wait, what? You don’t even have a plan?! No wonder you’re bored. Magic is a pursuit, and you should never stop pursuing. We’re fueled by a quest to learn and to perfect. So this is the time to plan a new destination. Whether it’s learning a new sleight or planning to land a regular gig at that choice location downtown, your plan is a map that keeps you focused on your destination. And if you’re focused on a goal, you never have a reason to be bored.

BACK TO BASICS

Maybe you’ve followed your plan and don’t like where you landed. Maybe you’re tired of traveling. Perfectly understandable. In this case, what would help is reconnecting with what turned you to the art in general. Maybe it was watching videos of crowd reactions, maybe it was the first routine you learned. Rediscover your discovery — reacquaint yourself with what you love about magic, and that will help get the flames dancing again.

PASS IT ON

It’s one thing to share magic with spectators — great reactions fuel us better than any gasoline, after all. But it’s another to share magic with other magicians. The shared brotherhood of magicians sharing nuances of their art can be addictive. Our own jam sessions between members of Team E are incredibly productive — the shared collaboration produces beautiful results. You can experience the same thing. Find a regular group to jam with. Or if you have a group already, figure out a way to shake things up.

TAKE A BREAK

Maybe you really do need a break. Maybe you’ve been burning too brightly for too long. So let the fire cool down. There’s no problem taking a break from magic. Recharge and don’t feel guilty about it. Your skills won’t leave you, and there will be plenty of new things to discover when you come back. Take your time; we’ll be here.

 

FOUR POINTS is a regular feature that celebrates magicians’ favorite number by highlighting four critical bits of importance, awesomeness or otherwise. Send your suggestions to joe@ellusionist.com.

FOUR POINTS: Make your cards last longer when packing daily

March 17th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

cards

Yeah, yeah, our Australian friends and Southern Hemisphere members have already been enjoying warmer months, and sick of summer already. But for us on the higher end of the equator, we’re getting ready to spend more time outdoors. That means more opportunities for get-togethers, meet-ups, festivals and other cool events.

And for us, that means more chances for magic.

Preparing for performances is one thing, but most of our customers LIVE magic. We’re thinking about it all the time, dreaming up schemes, working out sleights or practicing our moves. That means we have cards on us at all times. And that means we’re using them more.

This is part of the reason that we go through cards like crazy. Because the best cards for magic are made of paper, that means we all recognize that a deck will eventually get worn out, and ready to be used as a Wreck deck. But there are ways to keep your decks alive for longer as they become critical-carry items like your keys, wallet, cellphone and Sharpie:

WATCH FOR WARNING SIGNS

We’ve written about the biggest deck dangers before: These are your new red flags. Watch for them religiously, which shouldn’t be any problem for a magician who is training to be more observant and controlling of their environment. Just remember that if someone spills an iced coffee on your deck, it’s your fault.

CHOOSE POCKETS CAREFULLY

If you wear cargo pants with pockets that can double as sleeping bags, this is not a problem for you. But anyone who wears regular to skinny-fit pants may have issues here. If the pockets are big enough, then a deck can share space with a cellphone, no problem. While change isn’t a problem for cards, keys can dig into the side of the box, so don’t mix those. If the rear pockets are your only option, then be aware that the curve of your seat can permanently bend things — look at your wallet if you don’t believe us.

And if you’re a woman, the clothing world is conspiring against your magical ambitions. We think it’s absolutely nuts for jeans to not have pockets, and share any frustrations you may have. If you carry a purse, we recommend using one of the smaller, separate pockets for your cards, instead of sloshing around the main area. We’re pretty sure that’s what Hermione would do.

PRO TIP: GET A CLIP

Clips do more than look outstanding and show you are serious about cards — they protect those cards while they are in your pocket. They also protect something else: The box. Experiends card carriers know that many times the deck outlasts the thing that holds it.

MONITOR TEMPERATURES

This isn’t a life or death thing, because the worst that can happen from going back and forth between hot and cold areas is a little bit of a click-bend. Still, that jacks with handling, so if you know you’ll be performing, take some extra steps to prevent the back-and-forth. But for casual use, this will annoy only perfectionists. For the most part, this is good practice, because it acclimates us to the different states of our cards and how our fingers should compensate.

BONUS POINT: CRAM THAT CASE

Remember that each deck comes with 56 cards, and two of those you likely set aside or throw away. We’ve made a habit of putting a double-backer in most of our our custom playing cards, and the Black Kings have an Angle Z gaff card. It won’t hurt to cram in a few extra cards on a regular basis. Whether it’s a gaff card or presigned card, it’s real easy to leave those in the box, leaving you free to work with a full deck anywhere. And if a chance to perform pops up, you already have a card or two ready for some next-level magic. In fact, practice taking the rest of the deck out smoothly while leaving those cards behind in the box — no one will ever suspect there are cards left in it (or if someone does spot ‘em, just say they are the jokers).

FOUR POINTS is a regular feature that celebrates magicians’ favorite number by highlighting four critical bits of importance, awesomeness or otherwise. Send your suggestions to joe@ellusionist.com.

FOUR POINTS: Important magic lessons learned in Army of 52

March 10th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

We revolutionized the gaff deck, so of course we revolutionized the gaff deck instruction video. And what resulted in the Arcane Gaff, Ultra Gaff and the Gaff System started with Army of 52.

Featuring Justin Miller, it showed eight incredible performances and an arsenal of sleights, moves and instruction. Created to show magicians how to use our Blue and Red Bicycle Gaffs, it expanded the concept by using our Ghost deck.

Released in 2006, it’s one of our older videos, but it’s remarkable how much of it holds up today. It’s worth a rewatch for many reasons, but mainly these four:

Magic shouldn’t always be clean

Not everything has to be impromptu, and there’s power in preparation. SPECTATORS DON’T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE. All they see is the magic you want them to see. When combined with good sleight of hand, a gaff card introduces a new realm of impossibility. That’s worth figuring out how to get out of a dirty situation, or packing a few extras on you.

Sleights are meant to be versatile

Forgive us for going meta here, but Justin has used Jack Carpenter’s Impulse Change in so many different ways that we lose count. Army of 52 is where he first taught that move in an Ellusionist video, alongside Hartman’s Pop-Out Move, Marlo’s Tilt and KM move, TG Thompson’s Deck Flip and more. Even though the sleights were taught within the context of using them, the uses of each one with a normal deck of cards popped in our heads instantly.

Power of presentation

Watching JM perform is a treat, and the reactions he got while filming A52 rank among our favorite (especially the dude with the afro reacting to Doug Conn’s pip matrix). Watching his video is a master class.

Motive matters

Gaff cards are tools. We’ve written about how the use of gaff cards is a sign of either sloth or skill, and we know a lot our customers lean heavily on their skill, and are unafraid of ending dirty. But in watching Justin perform, you quickly realize that these strange things are happening for reasons, even if those reasons aren’t always known. In other words, there is a lot of thought as to how the revealed gaff cards are revealed, in order to get the most magical impact.

FOUR POINTS is a regular feature that celebrates magicians’ favorite number by highlighting four critical bits of importance, awesomeness or otherwise. Send your suggestions to joe@ellusionist.com.

Network debut: Adam Wilber, Justin Miller featured in Syfy’s ‘Wizard Wars’

February 12th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

Tonight is the night. Two of magic’s boldest performers will appear on one of their biggest stages yet: A prime-time cable network show.

Ellusionist General Manager Adam Wilber and longtime performer Justin Miller team up and compete for $10,000 on the Syfy show “Wizard Wars.” Developed by Rick Lax and Justin Flom, the show gives a “Chopped”-style spin to magic shows: Pairs of magicians must develop magic effects and routines based on mystery objects given to them before the show.

How do Adam and Justin fare? Do they advance past the preliminary round and take on the show’s pros? We have high hopes. But no matter how they finish, Adam said the experience was a blast.

“We were pretty comfortable about the challenge because we set out to make our performance as entertaining and fun as we could with what we were given,” Adam said. “I’m happy with the way it turned out and, most importantly, we had a blast putting it together.”

Both Justin and Adam have reputations for performing fearlessly in a variety of situations. A performer with Ellusionist since the company’s early days, Justin recently completed filming The BOLD Project, which featured one of the craziest, riskiest performances we’ve ever captured on video — and he KILLED. Before Adam’s promotion to general manager, he had cemented his reputation as a worker by performing for anyone, anytime. He is the creator of The Working Man and the author of Creative Magic.

Adam said they were approached by Syfy to appear on the show. After a Skype interview, he was on a plane to Los Angeles for filming, he said.

But those are in close-up, street situations. How did the two interact on a stage, working as a team? Pretty well, Adam said.

“Justin and I are very close friends, so working with him was like second nature,” Adam said. “Two minds make the workload easier, for sure. Justin and I have a similar style of magic, so there was not a lot of teaking that had to be done. It all felt pretty natural.”

The performance went… well, you’ll see. Audience members reacted well, and connected with the two afterward to say how much they enjoyed it. Reaction elsewhere has also been overwhelming, he said. And some of the best performance feedback came from two of the show’s celebrity judges, Penn and Teller.

“It’s always great to get criticism from artists you respect,” Adam said.

“Wizard Wars” airs at 10 p.m. EST Thursdays on Syfy.

FOUR POINTS: Shapeshifter taught so much more than a color change

January 14th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

Usually we’re focused on the future, on what’s coming next. Right now, our staff is meeting in San Francisco to plan out an epic 2015. But every once in a while, we get a chance to relax, browse through the warehouse and review something we’ve released in the past. Yeah, we get some giggles from some of the little ways our first projects have aged, but for the most part, we’re proud of these videos and how well they hold up in this new era of internet magic.

And man, was Shapeshifter a great video.

Remember how you felt after performing it successfully? The move is like a little mini-rush — that distinct popping sound is one of the most satisfying sounds in sleight of hand. Shapeshifter became much more than a color change: It became a gauntlet, a badge of honor.

Released almost 10 years ago (2005), it was a short video by our standards at the time — less than an hour — but it crammed in a ton of details about a simple color change. Remember at the time the move was being raved about underground until David Blaine brought it to his TV specials, for good reason: It is a startling, eye-popping color change that captivated spectators and compelled magicians. But because not everyone knew who created it, a lot of magicians decided to self-teach themselves the move, leading to a lot of sloppy handling.

So we brought creator Marc DeSouza on board, and that’s what started a move that has become more than a move. Brad Christian also recorded his thoughts and handlings of Shapeshifter in a segment that revealed itself to be critical teaching for magicians. In fact, even if you know how to do the move, the video is an essential part of a magician’s library for all that’s crammed inside. Here’s our four favorite things about Shapeshifter:  Read more

Let the cards do the talking: Flourishes can speak volumes without words

January 7th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” In a general sense, he’s right.

But that doesn’t exactly work for us magicians. At some point we have to speak — to introduce ourselves, deliver patter or respond to a spontaneous moment. But there’s ways we can speak less.

Better yet, we can let our cards do the talking for us.

During our recent podcast with Adam Wilber, the creator of Pyro, he proposed trying an experiment: The next time you perform, introduce yourself for one group with a good card spring, then for the next group, introduce yourself without the spring.

The results should be revealing, Wilber said, and skew toward the side of better reactions from the first group.

“The biggest thing for a crowd is to win them over quickly, so that you’re not the corny magician they have seen before. Something as simple as springing the cards from hand to hand can make you a professional in the audience’s eyes.”

We’ve talked about the balance between either showing or hiding proficiency with cards. Some magicians lean more toward Dai Vernon’s Erdnase-inspired philosophy of casual, non-flashy movement, others lean toward Paul LePaul’s idea that expert manipulation could generate magical reactions from spectators. Starting off with a flourish definitely puts you on the LePaul side of that line.

But think about what a flourish says, without speaking a word:

  • • Not everyone can do a flourish. Heck, not everyone gets to SEE flourishes very often. It’s easy for magicians to forget that, because we watch performance videos and cardistry displays like they are Super Bowl commercials. But most people rarely get to see such a thing live. That rarity is compelling, and is a tremendous advantage.
  • • Some magician’s disapproval of flourishes rests in the idea that a spectator, upon seeing a flourish, would instantly recognize it as a display of skill, then go on a Fezzini-inspired rant of logic to deduce that any of the magic they see from you CLEARLY isn’t magic, because you’re capable of such precise manipulations, etc. In our experience, a flourish wakes up an interest in spectators. They make the deduction that you are good at cards, but instead of discounting what’s to come, THEY CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT COMES NEXT. Like Adam said, they recognize you are a professional, and build interest in seeing what you can do.
  • • Flourishes can speak from across a room. We’ve been out in public, just fanning cards, then been approached by people who are curious about what we’re doing. Eight times out of 10, it takes less than a minute for them to ask, “Are you a magician?” In those cases, all the hard work of introducing yourself has been done by them.
  • • Flourishes aren’t limited to just cards. There are rolls and walks you can perform with coins or rings. Or maybe you have a favorite object, such as a lighter, cellphone, money clip, etc. Play with it. Manipulate it. Figure out a trick. Those are basically the same thing as a fan or spring, and can have the same effect.

There are even more ways that a flourish can speak for you, but we’ll let you discover those on your own. Adam and Peter McKinnon teach a series of basic flourishes in How to Do Miracle Card Tricks, and Daniel Madison goes next level with hardcore hand candy in Cardistry.

FOUR POINTS: These are the biggest hazards that threaten your new cards

December 30th, 2014 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

So, you got some cards for the holidays. And not just any cards, but some of the custom playing cards designed by Ellusionist. You were awed over the art and amazed at how they glided and snapped — definitely a step up over those cards you bought at the big-box retail store.

Whether you spoiled yourself or got a thoughtful gift, chances are you’re going to be packing a deck with you everywhere you go — if you weren’t already. Who are we kidding — OF COURSE you’ve been packing a pack. You’ve been carrying around those boring red-backed cards for weeks, and now you have some world-class design to show off. Besides, you know you need to practice, and you take every chance you get to do so. You’ve already learned some incredible things, and that practice can be thrilling and addictive in the pursuit of a new move.

That means you’ve likely learned some hard lessons about taking care of cards.

How did you lose your first card? Did you drop it in some liquid? Get food on it? Did some goobsmack bend it like Beckham trying to keep you from spying its identity, leaving it looking like an Ozarks hillside? Whatever that was, you learned an important lesson about keeping decks together. You learned that even the best cards are still made of paper, and that there is much more deck-buying in your future.

Don’t fret: There’s plenty of things you can do with an incomplete deck, and we’ll cover that in a future blog post. For now, you’re probably interested in keeping your new deck alive as long as you can, while carrying it as long as you can out in the field. It’s a noble goal: You can get so much more out of our decks when you care for them properly. And the best way to do that is to always keep an eye out for these four hazards to playing cards. Spotting these red flags will keep your deck golden.

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FOUR POINTS: Add holiday magic to your magic with these ideas

November 30th, 2014 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

There’s holidays, and then there’s the holidays.

Most countries have one or two days where everyone goes whole hog with celebration, but the end of November usually brings an entire month of excitement, including Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan and more. The excitement changes us a bit, gets us thinking about the upcoming celebrations, gifts, decorations and more.

The holidays change us. But how do they change our magic?

Does your ambitious card routine go from being about Houdini to Santa always popping out of a chimney? Do you wear more Christmas colors to your gigs? Does your coin box get wrapped in wrapping paper with a bow? Or maybe your performance character doesn’t have room to stretch out into a holiday theme?

Granted, most of you are in the midst of a season full of gigs, so you have already considered those things. If you haven’t, though, it’s never too late. Here are four areas to consider whether a little holiday magic should be part of your magic.
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FOUR POINTS: This is why AI will never make better magic tricks

November 17th, 2014 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

So you saw that story about how a computer designed a magic trick, and it made you give up magic, right? Seeing that a computer is capable of devising a trick that fools laymen and magicians alike, you threw down your deck of cards, completely gave up on your idea of combining a glide and a cop and went back to browsing listicles involving cats and Emma Watson?

Yeah, we didn’t think so.

The report about researchers from Queen Mary University of London touts that researchers programmed a combination of the mechanics of a jigsaw puzzle, the method of a mind-reading card trick and results of experiments into how humans understand magic tricks. From that, the computer came up with some variants. Able to process a larger amount of variants, one of the co-creators of the project said that the amount of variants “keeps audiences guessing.”

Most of you probably caught on that one of the tricks is more of a puzzler, and the other is mathematical. Probably didn’t leave you feeling all that threatened, and you went back to practicing your table faro shuffle. Still, there might have been a seed of doubt — is this just a harbinger of things to come? Will AI progress to the point where we can get fooled by machines? Is this the beginning of technology changing magic?

We feel your pain, and we’re here to assure you that magic will be fine. We may eventually be enslaved by hopefully benevolent robot overlords who at least give us sme food before they use poisonous gases to poison our — you know. But they will never fool us with magic tricks. Here’s why:  Read more

Shoot like Kings: Instagram users make incredible art with latest deck

October 21st, 2014 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General, Products

It’s not long now. The Kings deck, a collaboration between Daniel Madison and Peter McKinnon, will soon be available to Black Club members, and then the rest of the world.

But a handful of people, who are close friends and associates with DM and p:m, have already had some quality time with the Kings. And the artistic work they have posted to Instagram is simply breath-taking.

From the impossible flotations of Jeremy Griffith to the subtle shadows of Benoit Pervier, from the inspired etchings of Tomas Hlavaty to the devious destruction of Praxis Control creator Chris Ramsay — these artists, magicians and creators have taken this incredible new deck and transformed it into works of art.

Some of our favorites are below, others can be found on Instagram. Each one deserves your follow and many likes. While you’re there, make sure to follow us.

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