The Blog from Beyond!

human chicken-eggs mouthJULY 2010

Welcome to my first blog. Everything you didn’t need to know about me.

Sounds like you have a lot of time on your hands.

It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I stoke the furnace on this runaway train. What do I talk about? What do you want to hear? Which bands do I like? My turn-ons and turn-offs? At what point do I start discussing what I had for breakfast? As Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

So I tell you what … I will try to make this information useful for you, technically, and as a performer. No pie-in-the-sky theories. No cockamamie algorithms. Just conclusions drawn from experience and observation.

One comfort I have here, is that this blog is definitely not a democracy. Sorry, but I have no interest in opening up dialogs with the entire world and arguing fine points of magical “theory,” or how many angels will fit on the tip of a wand … just so you know. If you don’t agree with me, bless you. Click on the next page. No harm, no foul.

But if the content somehow proves helpful to you, then perhaps there might be some purpose for this after all!

I will update this blog sporadically, so check back occasionally and see what’s new. Better yet, join my mailing list and get an email notice of new entries, new books and DVDs, lecture and show schedules, and anything Carney related. I only send out mailings quarterly, so you won’t be bothered too often with my rants.

So until the next time, best of luck. Hope to see you back again soon.

Copyright 2012 by John Carney and CarneyMagic. 

Not to be reproduced without express consent of the author.

Acorn to Mighty Oak

coils from hat

Developing Material

One of the most common questions from aspiring magicians is, “How do you develop an act?” I regret that there is no clear-cut formula that I can offer. It is mostly a matter of committing to a project. Creativity is a matter of developing a spirit of adventure in play.


Contrary to the popular belief, great ideas rarely appear all at once, complete in every detail. Rather, it is a process. Even Leonardo da Vinci discarded many sketches and ideas before he discovered the crystallized version of the Mona Lisa that we know.


I believe that every one has the potential to be creative. I don’t think it’s a matter of something you have or don’t have. I believe it is a muscle that you use or don’t use.


It used to bother me because I felt that I was not as good as the people I admired most. Then, I realized that I was an individual, with my own unique potential and my own strengths and weaknesses. My heroes are such because they are like no one else, in the same way that no one is like me … or you. Discover what you are best at, and concentrate on that.


Don’t imitate your heroes, emulate them. In developing new routines, you have the opportunity to dig down deep and draw on your own unique experiences and frame of reference, which can never be duplicated by anyone in the world. I’ve heard it said that the most interesting singing voices are those closest to the singer’s natural speaking voice, unique and unaffected by trends or convention. It is all well and fine to be influenced by those you admire, but at some point you must develop your own voice.


Ironically, the thought that we might not be creative is the very thing that blocks us from being creative. You must cultivate the courage to try, to risk failure and to realize the consequence of any small failure in the context of an entire life or career.


This same fear accounts for much of the stealing in the world of magic. Stealing someone else’s ideas is a form of fear. In stealing, the thief is denying his own self worth. He is giving in to the idea that he has nothing to offer. He has given up on himself.


It’s pretty difficult to get anywhere if you don’t know where you are going. You will need a roadmap. Deciding what you want may be your biggest chore. Clearly defined effects are much more difficult than methods. You might find it helps to start with a general effect or premise, then list all the things associated with it. Study any pertinent material and take notes. Be specific. Don’t just think, “I want something great that everyone will like and think is amazing. “ Pick a concept or scenario, then run with it. Each situation will present it’s own unique possibilities.


Now with all your collected information, make a list of ideas. If you set a goal of crating 20 ideas with your premise, write those down, then, just when you think you can’t think of another single idea, try thinking of not just one more, but ten. You will surprise yourself at how resourceful you can be if you discipline yourself to push harder. Good ideas are rarely the first that comes to mind. Sometimes they are the 38th idea, or even the 138th. Try different combinations and ask “What if?” without limiting yourself in any way. It doesn’t have to be practical at this point; you are just trying to get the ball rolling.


If, for instance, you wish to make a bouquet of flowers bloom, make a list of things associated with flowers. This might included bees, flower pots, seeds, water can, and so on. Now think of a location in which this effect might take place. If the location is a park on a spring day, other objects, such as a park bench, a newspaper, or a child’s ball, all hold the possibility of magical influence and integration into your routine. Gather some of these props before you.


Now, start to play. If you are totally unlimited by method and practicality, what sort of magical things would happen?


Think of the journey in hundreds of small steps instead of one giant leap. Break things down to a few small, attainable goals. A sketch, a list of materials, or a trip to the hardware store can take the idea out of your head and set it before you in a form you can play with, molding it into your vision. Start with shopping for materials. Get everything in front of you where you can play with it. Don’t worry about beauty, just get a working model. Most everything I do started with hot glue and duct tape.


Expect to make lots of small alterations to your original concept. A small prototype made of cardboard and glue, or gimmick fashioned from wire makes changes easier to implement. You want a three-dimensional model that you can play with, enhancing further visualization. Simple prototypes may not be pretty, but you shouldn’t waste time on unnecessary minutiae such as precise measurements and perfect appearance. Quite often, you may have to cannibalize an existing prop, tearing it apart to make a new one. We often feel an unreasonable reverence for props and are reluctant to desecrate them. But creation often comes from destruction. By destroying older ideas and props, we make space for brand new ones.


I find it helpful to have a deadline. I can procrastinate forever, but as soon as an obligation is breathing down my neck, I find the energy to get things done. It shouldn’t be a deadline that you can’t meet. Instead of an audition for a Vegas showroom in a month, try a five-minute spot at a coffee house, a party, a church, or office party. Do it as many times as you can, with or without money. Experience is the key. I can an show you how to swim, the basic techniques of moving your arms and legs, but until you jump in, you’ll never be a swimmer. If you practice in the shallow end of the pool, you’ll gain confidence and eventually move to the deep end, then a lake, and next, the ocean.


Now, are you performing as yourself, or as a character? If you wish to perform as a character, you must realize that funny voice does not a character make. A compelling, interesting character has a world view influencing everything he does on stage, from the choice of material, to the attitudes and behavior you will exhibit. This will result in distinguishable traits that your audience will latch onto in an attempt to understand you and your motivations. You may wish to draw up a history for your character, including where he was born, how he was raised along with some interesting events in his life. You may not use these facts in your act, but they will serve as subtext to subtly influence the entire character and make your acting “choices” more motivated.


When are you finished? Never! No matter how many years you may perform the routine, there will still occasionally be something that will take you by surprise. With these things noted and performance provision made, your act will improve. There is no short cut. Throughout, remember that the end goal is fun: the fun you will have developing your own ideas, as well as the fun your audiences will have when they see smart, thoughtful magic.


What are you waiting for? Get started!


Copyright 2002, John Carney and Carneymagic.

No part may be reproduced without expressed permission from the author.

Advice for Advancement


For various reasons, I rarely give private lessons. But here are some thoughts on what I would try to teach someone, if they were my student … so that they could advance, and eventually continue on their own. These are not so much rules, as guidelines.

What’s the secret of being a better magician? 
Setting a Personal Ideal … not just good enough. Each new trick should have an ideal vision behind it. What would it look like for real, without moves?

Personal Discipline
Malcom Gladwell speculates 10,000 hours of study, experimentation and practice to master something.

Cultivate Integrity
Don’t quit thinking too soon

Become your most observant, objective critic
, and your most nurturing, positive minded coach. Build up mentally.
Learn from Historical Magic
More than just what is on YouTube and at your web site dealer. The latest trick is fun, but is it what everyone else is doing?
Is it a performance piece, or a “product”?
Are you responsible for the result?
Have you worked on the presentation, details of handling, technique…. really thought things through?
Why else should you deserve applause? If you are not using your muscles, someone else,
perhaps the trick’s creator, deserves that approbation more than you.
Is magic an art?
Just participating means nothing…… How much are you contributing?……. If you become an artist, with all the hard work,
integrity and responsibility that entails…… art will be a part of what you do.
What’s the best way to practice?
Focus. Eliminate distractions. Don’t be satisfied with “good enough”
First, get it off the page. Memorizing the moves and the sequence is the first step …this is where most magicians stop!
As Al Baker said, “Magicians stop thinking too soon”
Different types of Practice
Thoughtful…… research, experiment, adjust
Technical….. repetition, to work in muscle memory.
if there are problems, you go back to thoughtful and find out why it is not working, you are dropping the cards, or it doesn’t look right
     Alternate mechanical and thoughtful until you have a smooth, workable method.
Different from practice. Rehearsal should be like a live performance …. the same energy as a real show to memorize your lines,
the sequence, and block out your actions
What is the effect?
If you can’t explain the effect in a short phrase, it’s not a memorable effect.
Rings link
Cards Rise, appear  or change.
“He did a lot of cool things” is not an effect. If they can’t talk about it the next day, they won’t remember it and your impact will be minimal.
Writing scripts
Even if you don’t follow it word for word, you have a foundation for what you will say. You can move parargraphs, change words, cut words, and eliminate or substitute entire parargraphs. After you have done it a dozen times or more, you are on your way. If you change it incrementally over many shows, you will be surprised how much it has changed over time…… sometimes not even close to your written script…. but this will get you started.
Respect past masters …. if you just think magic starts and ends with youtube and the latest magic product, your are doomed to mediocrity.
Don’t just have one person that you listen to……. it’s great to have a guide, but take in good ideas any where you find them….. and toss out what doesn’t make sense.
Studying magic
Much different than just buying things. Learn from past masters, but then exercise your own creativity. How can you fix weaknesses? Present it differently? Enhance the effect through streamlined methods, understanding of showmanship, presentation and theater skills.
Video or Books?
Video is fine, but only a small percentage of magic knowledge is available on video. And it does not force you to think any differently. You will most likely do it exactly as the person in the video, with the same method, gestures, jokes.
Books give you basic concepts where you can read between the lines, and interpret things to come up with something new.
But not just originality for originality’s sake…. it must solve a problem or make it more practical or a better effect. Just changing a move or the color of the cards does not bring anything truly new to the idea.
Keep notes on your ideas….. variations on what you work on, changing and adding over time…… inspirations, inside and outside of magic
Working Repertoire
OK to work on lots of things, but come back to a core of strong effects…… over time these would become your “go to” routines. Effective and practical under most circumstance……. If you keep trying to improve, even these routines you have done for years, they will become like gold to you. You can always rely on them and when you do them, you are always seen at your best.
Experience and refinement
Learn from your mistakes… make adjustments….. try again…. repeat.
Good technique is a series of incremental adjustments, eventually resulting in a consistent outcome.
Beginners always know the easy way, they never know the simple way. Simplify means taking out anything that detracts…….. awkward moves, susupicious moments…. making things practical and not something that just works “most of the time”…….. Simple does not mean easy…… it is a distillation to an essence. Exactly was is required, no more, no less.
Many simple things take great skill to eliminate tedious procedure and superfluous action.
If you don’t decide what you want to project to people, you are leaving it to chance. If you are not a funny guy, settle for being of good humor and a likeable guy…. nothing is more uncomfortable than someone trying to hard to be funny….. or someone trying to be dashing and romantic, when they don’t fit the role.
Have daily, weekly, monthly, long term goals.
If you practice 5 days a week, for 30 minutes a day, totally focused without distraction….. you won’t be a great magician, but you will be miles ahead of most. If you raise that to a couple hours a day…. in just a few years, you could be one of the greats.
Choose material according to what people like, not just a clever principle, prop or gimmick that you like.

Real World vs. Contests
Goal of a contest should be self improvement, with a deadline and goal. If your only goal is to win, you might lose. Otherwise, you have advanced and have an act you can use in the real world.

Be careful learning from YouTube
Not everyone knows what they are talking about. Even if you think they do.
Reading Required
From The Book of Secrets
If you are only learning from videos, you are leaving out an important component in your magical progress: your own interpretation. Videos teach us to imitate, not just technique, but the style and manner of the performer you are watching; his timing, his sense of humor, his gestures. To remedy this, I enthusiastically recommend books as your major information source, with much to be learned “between the lines”.
In listing the following books, I have included a potpourri of titles and subjects. I feel that it not only makes for a more complete conjuror, but also stretches one’s possibilities. It keeps the love for magic in a perpetual romantic stage, preserving our interest long after the “bloom is off the rose”.
It is impos