Ronald J. Dayton
(c) 1998 International Conservatory of Magic ™
It is my intent to offer suggestions and working methods which will direct the reader toward greater creativity. I make no promises for success. You will have to work a little to achieve that on your own. What I will promise to do is to share every means to that end I am aware of. You will be given lists, tips/suggestions, ideas and examples…but no short cuts. If you are serious about this subject, be prepared to burn the midnight oil.
Creativity is something each and every individual is capable of cultivating. It can be developed to whatever degree you feel most comfortable with. Creativity includes being inventive, but not exclusively so. It is also reflected in the music, patter, costuming, set designs, stage presence and timing for example. These are all aspects of your creativity…all part of the “total” performance to which creativity may be applied. It may be the magical “illusive essence” which makes an act outstanding rather than mediocre.
Every one of us, I believe, would like to contribute something to this world of magic. Something that will leave a mark long after we are gone. It is important to realize, lest we become overwhelmed by the task of becoming creative, that the contribution need not be earth shattering. It may well be something as simple as a particular stance, a gesture or a look. It may be a phrase that captures the imagination of your audience. Like grains of sand comprising a coastal beach, the size of the grain does not diminish its importance to the whole.
One of the keys to creativity seems to be discovering yourself! Knowing who you are, and what you want to achieve in this craft. It isn’t easy. A person must take an honest appraisal of himself and his limitations. You must understand just how much you are willing to sacrifice to attain your desired goal. Creativity, at whatever level, will take real work. Once you come to grips with yourself, you’ll be ready to begin…and to be the very best YOU that you can be!
Another factor which is essential to creativity is a well rounded background. An extensive knowledge of magic itself. The best part is…this is something you can develop. This is part of the work and sacrifice mentioned earlier. Time and effort will be needed, but thankfully, there are many marvelous sources at your disposal. Public libraries, book stores, magic shops, magic catalogs, magic dealers, video and audio tapes, and most notably, The International Conservatory of Magic. Truly the list goes on and on. Magazines such as “The New Tops”, “The Magic Manuscript”, “Magic”, “Magicgram” and “Genii” are all wonderful. Members of the S.A.M. and I.B.M. also enjoy tips and information found within the pages of their respective publications. Various “Magic Camps and Jubilees” are also organized annually both on the east and west coast. Last but not least, one of the most important sources of information of all …your fellow magicians. Young and old alike. Listen to what they have to say. You might be surprised at what you’re able to learn. The older magician may have much broader experience than you have. Perhaps he has seen some of the legends of the past in actual performance. They may be well read, or highly skilled in certain facets of the art. All of which is to your benefit. Absorb the information and lessons they have learned over the years. Take the best, and leave the rest.
The same applies to younger magicians. Do not be so foolish as to pass them by simply because they are young. Youth is fresh and vital. They dare to try the unknown, to take that step beyond, unaware of the supposed limitations which have been drummed into older minds. Youth has not yet been programmed to disbelief. Too often, we hinder ourselves and our accomplishments by listening to inner thoughts, or those of others, as to what IS or IS NOT possible. I’ve heard it said that, the impossible is that which is yet untried! And I firmly believe that is true.
A person might think…how can I possibly learn all about magic, so I can build a strong foundation of knowledge. There is so much to know…and the subject is so vast.
Do not be put off by the scope of magic. There is no possible way you could learn everything, although there are people out there who claim they know it. They are only fooling themselves. The reality of the situation is…the field is extremely vast, and, constantly changing. At very best, much like a medical student, you will do your best to remain ‘current’. Simply do your best to learn as much as you possibly can. You will retain much more information than you realize.
Once you have begun this foundation of magical knowledge and background, we can begin taking the next logical step. You will want to take the information you have learned and put it to practical use.
You’ll recall that earlier, we touched on the fact that negative thoughts are harmful. They are counter-productive. They place limits and restrictions on the thought and creativity process. It would be most beneficial than for us to take an approach which eliminated or forbids negative thinking. One such method is a process called.
Choose on day out of the week and set aside a certain amount of time for yourself. If you are not in the mood when the say arrives, simply reschedule the activity for another time. Do not put if off indefinitely.
Find a room or area where you will not be disturbed. Have paper, pencils…possibly even a tape recorder of cam-corder available to record data, then begin. List all titles, concepts and effects that come to mind. List them all. Do not interrupt the flow of thought with negative dismissal. Consider all ideas to be valid. List as many as you can. Really push yourself! Use one thought to fuel another. Then, when no more ideas or spin-offs come, stop and take a break. Walk away. Have a soda or a cup of coffee, whatever it takes to relax just a bit, then return concentrating all you efforts and knowledge into finding workable methods for the effects you have listed. Again, accept no negative thoughts,. Every solution, no matter how bizarre, should be noted. You’ll be amazed at the incredible amount of material you mind has unearthed. Finally, when you are done, the sorting and sifting process begins. This is best left for another time or day. If you have put a sincere effort into your brainstorming session, you should be pretty well spent. Cleanse your mind for several day, then go back to the material and approach it fresh. Attack it as though it were someone else’s thoughts. Study it. Revise it. Pick it apart! And as always, keep the best and leave the rest.
After several such solo brainstorming sessions it is good to bring at least one other party into the picture. Choose a friend in magic whose opinion you trust and whose magical background is solid. He will be an impartial, objective aid. Things easily overlooked by you will often be obvious to them. Two or more heads are always better than one. You will likely be very pleased with the abundance of ideas and methods you arrive at.
It is interesting, too, to arrange a day during which two or more individuals schedule solo brainstorming at the same time. Later, all parties involved get together to work on their findings. It’s fun to compare similarities in thought, to discover the sharp contrasts as well. It is a form of creative comradery which stimulates the thought processes as well as anything I know.
So! We have looked at what I call solo brainstorming and delayed review of concepts. What is left? Brainstorming in its purest and most enjoyable form! Follow all the guidelines. Select a time, place and format, then get together with several friends. Remember, no criticism of ideas is permitted, Push you mind and will to the fullest extent. Get as many ideas for effects as possible, Use your ideas and those of others to create new variations. List all desired effects, and possible titles for those effects. Yes, titles alone can be a very positive springboard. If there is any doubt in your mind, it may be heartening to know that Jerry Andrus often begins with a name for an effect, then creates the effect and method from that starting point. This is his first step. Phase two consists of brainstorming to list every conceivable method for accomplishing the effect. Finally, he reviews the selections and chooses the handling/combination of methods which will create the desired illusion. Brainstorming works because it is a ‘no holds barred’ situation. At the start, nothing is deemed to be wrong. This gives your mind free reign.
Another force which may compell us to be creative is GENUINE NEED. This is more difficult in many respects, but at least you have a general idea in which direction you are heading. The ‘need’ may be further specialized by falling into a particular theme or performing character. An extremely fine book to study for developing ” need motivated creativity “ is “The Trick Brain” by Dariel Fitzkee. It contains lists, and a systimatic method for actually leading the mind to create desired effects. Everything is spelled out in a clear and exact manner. I strongly urge you to investigate this book more closely.
The third, and possibly most illusive method for being creative or inventive might well be called ‘ dumb luck.’ It is that wonderfully strange way in which we accidentally stumble on, or invent something new. Truthfully, it is often ‘luck’, but, seldom ‘dumb’. This type of creativity makes use of all of the knowledge we have mentioned before. Somewhere in the recesses of our minds, we are aware of every piece of information we have ever been exposed to. The knowledge we have gained while building the strong background or foundation in magic is the spark or insight which allows us to connect ideas and make them interact. This will allow you to be looking through a magazine, or walking down the aisle of a toy or hardware store for example.. see a certain item, and immediately see an application in magic for it. It is the knowledge you have gained which will allow you to be casually playing or manipulating a card, coin, rope or what have you in your hands, and stumble upon a move or handling which is original to you. DUMB LUCK is like being in the right place, at the right time, in your mind. Opportunities will present themselves… and knowledge will give you the tools to take advantage of them.
Simply inventing for the sake of invention is not enough. Clever is nice, but useful is better. If you are determined to be creative from the standpoint of developing new effects.. do your best to give the magic community something they can work with. Something with which to entertain. Put forth your best effort to create something of genuine value to you, your compeers, and the people they perform for. They call it, desire!
Part of this desire motivated creativity must surely lurk within our subconscious thoughts. That could be why, from time~to time, a new idea is conveyed to us in the form of a dream. And, just as it is possible to learn things while we sleep via suggestion or audio tapes, perhaps it is possible to condition ourselves to be inventively creative while we sleep as well. This will not happen easily at first, nor is it a sure fire approach.. but it is fun to experiment with, and can be fairly productive too!
To condition or program your mind for subconscious creativity, you must simply saturate your mind with general thoughts and specific solutions to a chosen problem. It is, in a way, a form of pre-sleep brainstorming. When you retire for the evening ( for me, it helps if I stay up late and go to bed in an over-tired condition. The restless state seems to promote dreams.) your conscious mind will rest, and the subconscious remains active. Sometimes you will be able to very vividly see the working solution to your chosen effect. At other times, random thoughts, methods and effects will be visualized.
If you are lucky enough to awake shortly after the dream, record all information immediately. Try to be as exact as possible. Keep a pen and paper/ tape recorder on the night stand within easy reach.
Please do not confuse what I am saying with ‘pipe dreams’. Dream related invention is simply a way of tapping into your sub-conscious creativity. This may be a source you are presently totally oblivious to. But the bottom line is, it works! All through your day you are adding stimuli to the subconscious mind. It could easily be that all of our senses play a part in this process Visual and audio stimuli to be sure affect the subconscious, but couldn’t taste, smell or touch also act as some sort of mental catalyst?
Something which may be of interest to some of you might be the April 1987 issue of Omni magazine. The cover title reads; HOW TO CONTPOL YOUR DREAMS. The center section of the magazine is called The Omni Experience and has four full pages dedicated to the dream experience, how to enhance it, and how to control where it leads. The information brought to light within the pages of Omni was only a small part of a decade long study conducted by psychologists Stephen LaBerge and Jayne Gackenbach through a series of four exercises, the prospective Lucid Dreamer. ( One who is aware he is dreaming and controls and recalls what he is dreaming actually learns how to attain a Lucid Dream)
In yet another exercise outlined within the pages of Omni, you learn how to condition yourself to attain a state of Dream Flying. Why learn to fly? For several reasons. First of all, it is considered to be one of the basic forms of travel while in a dream state. Secondly, it creates a feeling of freedom. Thirdly, once mastered, the rather frightening travel form will dispell your inner most fears. You will become a free spirit so~to-speak and be capable of anything you care to imagine.
This may all seem a bit far fetched, bizarre or unreal. Please do not dismiss it completely The goal you wish to reach is attained only by keeping an open mind to all possibilities.
One of the methods I use when developing an effect is to familiarize myself as completely with the object or objects I intend to use in the effect as possible. A cardworker for instance will want to know the following about the brand of card he intends to use. Is the back design conducive to secret marking? Will the pattern allow for secret openings, slits to be concealed by the design itself? Is the card case designed in a useful way? Does the card split easily? Is its degree of flexibility of value? What is the relationship of the card in regard to the size of other cards? Can the border, front or back be used to conceal a secret ingress or flap? Is it a plastic coated or linen card? Does it hold up after repeated creasing or folding? Can the ink be easily erased, removed or otherwise altered? Will the card scale well? Is this a brand the audience is familiar with or will be comfortable with? Is its shape (round, crooked deck, tarot, miniature, bridge, poker or jumbo) useful for a specific effect? Is it a specialized card? Can the fact that it is a Giant Face Deck of value to me?
Perhaps I have taken too much time to make my point, but the implications are clear, and the answers often make your task of inventing an easier one. The questions alone may inspire a thought, or the investigation of the card itself may open new doors.
What is true for cards may, in many ways, be applied to other items. If, for instance, we are considering ropes.. what questions might you ask? How strong is it? Does it cut easily? Do the ends fray? Is it available in colors? Does it cause rope burns? Is it soft and flexible? How much length does it take to form a single overhand knot? Is it easily untied? Does it have an inner core, and if so, can it be removed easily? Can objects pass through the weave? What is the design of the weave itself? What is the rope made of (cotton, nylon, hemp, other)? Can the ends be mended and joined such as with nylon rope? With the core removed, can objects be inserted into the hollow rope? Does the rope soil easily? Can the rope be seen at a distance? Is the rope heavy, light, bulky or compressible? All of these things and more are factors a person should be aware of when considering possibilities with rope. The same may be said for a whole host of objects and materials.
One of my very best coin effects was based on the fact that I observed that the diameter of a U.S. Nickel, when machined properly, was the same as a size eight ladies finger ring. Who’d have thought? All of this too becomes part of the growing knowledge in your firm background in magic.
A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
Other than our own ability to maintain a curious nature, to be as observant and aware of all manner of things going on in the world around us, there is yet another aid to creativity we may make use of. I will call this source, Challenge Creativity. I have used it often, and intend to use it even more in the future. It takes part of the pressure off you due to the fact that someone else is giving you the premise for the effect. They tell you, I want to see this, this and this. You then create a method for producing the desired effect. They have, in other words, issued a challenge to you.
I have accepted challenges, and issued a few myself over the years. Here is one I issued to a friend of mine. An empty glass tumbler is seen resting mouth tp on your close-up mat. A spectator drops a coin into the glass. The coin sinks to the bottom, then suddenly, is seen to rise slowly to the surface of the top. It then sinks slowly back into the glass. when the spectator is asked to tip the coin out of the glass, it is found to be impossible. The coin is discovered to be imbedded or sealed within the solid bottom of the tumbler.
I often got challenges from magic letter pals I corresponded with. It was an enjoyable exchange. The internet offers a whole new world of possibilities. You may also choose to approach various individuals you know at ring meetings, conventions or other social activities you may be attending. You may write or call an outside source for challenges. You may venture so far as to take out a small ad in a magic publication for that specific reason. The investment could be repaid many fold.They will be out to stump you. It will take your finest effort to meet the task. You may, of course, never discover a working method for many of the challenges issued, but that’s really unimportant in the overall scheme of things. What IS important is that the whole process stimulates your thinking.
I have yet to meet the magician who has ‘never’ had the desire to create an effect of his very own. It is conceivable that every individual ‘already has an idea for this effect, but they remain locked within their mind. People have themselves convinced that this idea will be scoffed at by their peers, or fear it will not work, or perhaps be purloined before it takes flight. The fact of the matter is that it will go ‘no where’ if it is not shared and developed. Someone may stumble upon the method for themselves, develop and promote it while you debate if you should take a chance or not. If THEY take the initiative and YOU don’t, the effect will be THEIRS, and your best intentions will be lost forever.
Being creative has a lot to do with finding a balance within yourself. Brainstorming for instance, seems to be finding a balance between the hemispheres of the brain itself. Each side, as you may or may not know, controls a certain set of mental functions. The left side controls language, logic, counting and classification. This is the side we condition in school. It is analytical, objective and orderly. It makes decisions, judgements. It is capable of editing and revising material.
The right side of our brain is the spontaneous side. It is intuitive and illogical. The right side is the ‘idea waker’. It will generate creative thought and allow things to be seen in a new light. Symbolism and association can run rampant here, but there is a catch. One side is usually the dominant side. This is also usually the most developed side… the left hemisphere. That is where the snag in creative thinking arises. The left side is in conflict with the right. In correct brainstorming procedure, the right hemisphere is allowed to work first.
It takes effort at first to get one side to relax while the other becomes stimulated. This is why you must shut out all negative thoughts, otherwise the analytical left hemisphere would have material to work with. Free your mind. Go with the flow, and the R.H. side will soon emerge. Like a toddler learning to walk, the use of the right hemisphere is developed in stages. Extend your time and your goals at each session. Push yourself. And just as a weight lifter gradually increases the weight on the bar, so goes the training of the more underdeveloped right hemisphere. By degrees you will be able to ‘turn off’ the left side of the brain while the right side works. After the creative process has been exhausted, the left side of the brain is allowed to engage and analyze the material.
When paging through your magic catalog, allow your mind to roam. Go from close-up to stage effects, silks to coins, paper to rope. An unrestricted mind will soon begin to form mental links. random unions will be made. An overlapping of thoughts will help you to break away from more stringent lines of thinking. This will work in a similar way to the lists suggested earlier. It will assist your mind in rejecting certain patterns of thought. Seemingly unrelated effects will suddenly begin to merge. It’s a useful method to exercise your mind.
TAKE A HIKE
Another nifty way to think in an inventive manner is not to think about it at all! That’s right. Walk away from it for a while. When you are relaxed, and not under the direct pressure of ‘having’ to invent something, ideas seem to pop up at the most unexpected times. I should be embarrassed to say this, but I’m not really, that many of my best ideas have come to me while I was at my place of employment. Here again, when ever an idea came to me, it was quickly jotted down. Too many good ideas have been lost simply because they were not acted upon promptly.
You may also choose to stimulate your thinking by thinking in a new location, or change of atmosphere. Like a creative writer, you may need to get away from the norm. Select new surroundings in which to work and concentrate. Music may be used to set the mood as well as lighting. Make the experience as pleasant and comfortable as possible.
STICK WITH IT
Experience has proven time and time again that ideas are exactly that, just IDEAS. All the brainstorming in the world will not prove conclusively that something WILL work. Many things look great on paper but won’t get off the ground in the real world. When the time comes, in many instances, you will need a proto-type.
A number of years ago I developed an idea for a new version of cigarette through half dollar. I contacted a manufacturer of magic coins, and after some study, it was determined that the project would be far too costly. Special compound dies would be required, special tooling. The costs were too high to justify the variation. Three years later, an alternate design became evident to me. But once again, no ‘proof’ of its credibility was available. The design was much easier and cost effective to produce. To make a long story short, The Dayton Ultimate Cigarette Thru Half was eventually born. It is the only mechanical coin ever made which could be shown both sides, before, DURING and after the penetration. An idea, with perserverance, went from the mind, to paper to reality.
When you stick with a project, and it comes to fruition, there is no better feeling of satisfaction. The feeling is awesome.
There is one last phase I would like to touch on in regards to your own personal preparation for creativity, and that is the subject of reading material. I suggest the following:
The Tarbell Course in Magic, Vol. 1-7……………………………………… Tannens
The Phoenix & New Phoenix………………………………………………….. Tannens
Thayer Quality Magic; Vol. 1-4…………………………………………………Magic Limited
The Jinx.. ………………………………………………………………………………Tannens
Rices Encyclopedia of Silk Magic, Vol 1-3…………………………………. Rice
The Encyclopedia of Rope Tricks1 Vol 1-3………………………………… Abbotts
JackHughesWorld of MagicVol. 1………………………………………………Hughes
Encyclopedia of Dove Magic, Vol 1-4…………………………………………Supreme
The Lewis Trilogy
A Choice of Miracles
A Continuation of Miracles……………………………………………………Magical Publications
The Crowning Miracles
The New Modern Coin Magic…………………………………………………..Magic Inc.
The Magic of Pavel………………………………………………………………….Supreme
Darwin’s Thumb Tip Miracles…………………………………………………… Rare Publishing
The Illustrated History of Magic………………………………………………….Crowell
Suspensions and Levitations……………………………………………………… Hades
The Fitzkee Trilogy
Showmanship For Magicians………………………………………………… Magic Limited
The Trick Brain
Magic By Misdirection
All publications by Karl Fulves……………………………………………………Karl Fulves/Dover Press
Success and Magic…………………………………………………………………..Secret Service/Michael Ammar
It is important to make ourselves as aware as possible to new advances in technology, science and electronics, as well as new product releases. Reading publications such as Popular Science and Popular Mechanics may serve you well. Look at items carefully while browsing through your local variety store. Toy stores are also fabulous places to wander. Keep your eyes peeled when those catalogs come in the mail from such places as Spencers Gifts or the Electronic Goldmine. They often contain novel items which the wide awake magician can put to use. Look beyond the original use and try to visualize another form and function. It will often be worth your while if you do.
In the concluding words to one of my books I said: ” Think of an effect my friend. It CAN be done!” Well, needless to say, that raised more than a few eyebrows. Some reviewers felt it was far too broad a statement to make. But think about it. Go back to the concept that THE IMPOSSIBLE IS THAT WHICH IS YET UNTRIED. If you defeat yourself before you begin, naturally you will fail. Make a dedicated attempt at creativity. If the first attempt dosen’t work out, try again! Hang on to all your notes concerning ideas and methods. Perhaps in a year, or five.. .or more, the correct solution will come to light. Above all, maintain your dreams. They too may become reality.
Even the person who is NOT directly involved in the performance or production of magic can assist in its growth and well being. If you choose only to be a magic enthusiast, or a collector, you will be doing your part. You act as a catalyst. Your support and zeal motivate others. Like any part of the whole, your importance is immeasurable.
” Think of an effect my friend. It CAN be done!”