I love to weave stories and tales into my magic. This photo was shot at the 2021 MN Renaissance Festival by Darin Jensen. The theme of the magical effect I am performing here is the classic Magician vs the Devil. The story is told in the words of a poem. I titled it The Young Lad and the Mysterious Stranger. Captured in this photo is the moment the young lad sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for incredible magical abilities. In the end he outsmarts and beats the Devil at his own game with some incredible card magic.
Over my many years of performing this style of magic I have found the audience gets drawn into the magic, they begin to care about what is happening, they are engaged, enriched, enchanted.
The Mysterious Hole
Having been a professional magician for over 45 years I have witnessed some pretty amazing things. The three I am about to share are the most memorable because they happened directly to me, unexpectedly and accidentally. It is in these rare moments that the seasoned magician, caught totally off guard, instantly becomes a simple, baffled spectator.
This occurrence caught me totally off guard and was by far the most astonishing thing I have ever witnessed. I was sitting at my computer for a relaxing evening, finishing up some small business tasks. I poured a glass of wine. It was the end of the day and time to unwind.
After taking a few sips of wine while working I again reached for my glass of wine and see…
WHAT THE HECK?!
There’s a perfect hole cut into the side of the glass… like a laser cut hole about the size of a nickel! At this moment I was witnessing something so startling and unexpected my brain could not comprehend it. There was that rush of adrenalin causing all my senses to go into overdrive trying to deal with this bizarre phenomenon. A chill pass through my body and the hair on the back of my neck stood up.
This is unbelievable, how can this possibly be?!
In that moment of total astonishment I was convinced I was witnessing some kind of bizarre supernatural phenomenon. The only explanation was REAL MAGIC! Something unbelievable had just happened to me!
I slowly reached a finger out to touch the hole in the glass.
But wait… let’s go back in time just 20 minutes.
As I was opening the bottle of wine I used a foil cutter to remove the top piece of foil. I removed the cork and poured a glass of wine.
So what really happened?
Good magicians never reveal their tricks. However this was no trick, at least not in the traditional magic sense. This was in reality a strange and bizarre accident.
When I used my foil cutter to remove the foil top on the bottle one of the cutting wheels was loose and didn’t line up with the other wheels so it cut an extra piece of the foil. A perfect thin foil ring as thin as the glass itself.
I had removed the cork and poured the wine. The thin foil ring, still on the bottle, fell from the neck of the bottle into my glass unnoticed along with the wine. While I was drinking my wine the foil ring, by a bizarre chance, stuck to the inside of the wine glass, clinging to the glass with the help of the liquid.
This really was a freak accident, try as I might to recreate it later on I could not.
Back at my computer when I looked down at my glass and saw the “hole” I was dumbfounded. It was a perfect illusion. I can’t think of a strong enough word to describe my emotions at that moment. As a magician I deal in the impossible, I work creating the illusion of miracles, I believe in the impossible. As I said before, for a brief few moments I was convinced I was witnessing true magic at work! Or could it possibly be some spirit being trying to freak me out.
After a moment or two I mustered the courage to stick my finger into the hole.
I’m not sure what I would have done had my finger actually passed through the hole?
My finger did not go through a hole but hit glass. That is when the magic bubble burst. I instantly realized what I was actually seeing.
It truly was a perfect illusion a stunning magic trick, a bizarre accident, presented for an audience of one! Presented just for me, for my sole amazement and entertainment.
For a brief moment I, a professional magical performer for over 45 years, instantly became a baffled & bewildered spectator.
I loved every moment of it… because I remembered that this feeling of total amazement was why I got into magic in the first place. I wanted to enable my audience to experience this very same feeling of wonder and amazement all the time.
Steven Paul Carlson
THE THREE GREATEST TRICKS IN MAGIC
© Steven Paul Carlson 2019
What are the three greatest tricks in magic?
That was the question posted by a magic acquaintance of mine.
It’s an intriguing question and I will say a tricky one to answer as well 😦 sorry about the pun! After 50+ years of professional magic experience my hope here is to submit a response that is both informative and interesting to all readers not just magicians.
The question was: What are the three greatest tricks in magic? I will, at the same time, take into consideration the three greatest effects in magic.
What is the difference?
In magic the effect is what the trick is all about. For example, in a trick where a coin disappears from the magician’s hand the effect is a vanish. A single trick usually has many different methods that create that one effect.
Often times this magical effect appeals to a basic human desire or need. It is this affect on the emotions that creates the powerful impact of magical effect.
Counting down from # 3
3. Producing money from nowhere (The Misers Dream)
In the Miser’s Dream trick the magician shows his hands empty, his sleeves are rolled back. He then proceeds to pluck silver dollars out of thin air and drops them into a top hat or a wine bucket. This occurs as many times as the magician wishes. Often he will walk into the audience and pull coins off people’s clothing. The coins are seen and heard dropping into the hat or bucket. For a finale the magician may produce a shower of coins from both hands.
This was a very popular trick in the 19th and early 20th century. Today the value of a dollar coin has diminished greatly. However, in 1897 when T. Nelson Downs performed his Miser’s Dream on the Vaudeville stage the purchasing power of a silver dollar was approximately $30. The average workman made $5 to $15. a week. So when the magician plucked a silver dollar out of the air it was big money! That ability would truly be the dream of any member of the audience!
As a magician I am often asked, “Can you turn a $1 into a $100?” That is one of those common, silly questions spectators like to ask magicians. The question does, however, reveal something valuable about how the audience’s mind thinks; if you really could do magic wouldn’t you just magically make money appear?
The Miser’s Dream earns its place in the three greatest magic tricks because it appeals to this basic human dream, the ability to produce money out of nowhere!
3. The Floating Bill, is tied for third
In the floating bill trick, paper currency is borrowed from the audience. The magician lays the bill upon his empty hands and gently crumbles it into a ball. The paper ball, lying upon the magician’s open palm, begins to rise up out of his hand. The magician waves his other hand over and under the floating ball to show nothing is attached to it. The magician now gracefully waves both hands around the ball floating in mid air. The magician then secures the bill between his fingers, unfolds it and hands it back to the spectator.
Gravity, without doubt is the first natural law or force of nature we become aware of… often with painful lessons. As a result witnessing something float, unaided in space, is truly an impossible phenomenon. Because gravity is one of life’s most powerful realities a levitation will always be disarming and stunning to behold.
In magic we of course refer to this effect as a levitation or anti gravity.
The Floating Bill earns its place in the top magical tricks of all time because it dramatically defies a fundamental force of nature. And it does so with a borrowed object, performed at a close up range, under any conditions. It is truly impossible.
Additional note: In a list of the three greatest stage magic tricks the levitation of a person would probably rank number 1 or 2.
2. The Cut & Restored Thread (Gypsy Thread)
In the Gypsy Thread trick, a 3’ length of common sewing thread is cut into 10 to 12 pieces. The pieces of thread, without ever leaving your sight, are instantly restored to their original undamaged condition. In magic the effect is referred to as a restoration.
In life we are constantly faced with disorder and destruction. Life itself is chaotic. And people, by nature, are compelled to find meaning and to bring order and restoration to this chaotic life.
Quite often the plot of a magic trick (especially card magic) is creating order and restoration out of chaos.
This is where the Gypsy Thread trick is so powerful. Life all around us is vulnerable and fragile. The Gypsy Thread trick earns its place in the top three magic greats because it visually addresses that deep human desire… the ability to restore something that has been damaged or destroyed; to bring restoration and healing to chaos and destruction.
1. The Cups & Balls
Standing at number one is the ancient classic… The Cups & Balls.
The unique quality to the Cups & Balls trick is that it covers many different magical effects; the balls appear, vanish, penetrate and move mysteriously from cup to cup or hand to cup. The Cups and Balls grande finale always produce astonishing final productions under the cups, like large balls or fruit and vegetables, objects that barely fit into the cups. I personally produce a cup filled with loose pennies.
One famous magician referred to the Cups and Balls as “the ground work of all legerdemain.”
Throughout ancient history many societies and cultures have created their own unique versions of the Cup or Bowl and Ball effect. India, China and Japan all independently created their own unique versions. First century Romans called the Cups and Balls, “Acetabula et Calculi”, the vinegar cups and the pebbles.
The first written explanation of the Cups and Balls trick appeared in 1584 in a book called, “The Discovery of Witchcraft.”
The Cups & Balls is certainly the oldest and most popular effect in the magician’s repertoire. At the same time it is also the most exposed magic trick. Every beginner magic set comes with the familiar plastic blue, yellow and red cups and the three little yellow pom pom balls.
There was even a humorous attempt to “expose” this great classic on national TV using clear plastic cups.
In spite of all this, or maybe because of all this, the Cups & Balls have stood up to the hard test of time and remains a true classic in magic. To this day the Cups & Balls continues to amaze and mystify audiences. And, like the Phoenix, it arises from its ancient ashes to recreate itself for new generations in a new world of advancing technology.
The Cups and Balls earns the top position in the greatest magic tricks of all time because this magic classic enables us to experience a true sense of wonder and mystery. A moment when nothing is impossible. We are reminded that we, as human beings, not only want magic in our lives we need it. Even if it is only an illusion.
© Steven Paul Carlson 2019
SLEIGHT OF HAND: The use of digital dexterity and cunning to deceive.
The sleight of hand artist relies upon digital skills to accomplish his illusions. These techniques are invisible to the audience. The juggler openly displays his hard earned skills. The sleight of hand artist hides them. They are concealed within natural movements and actions.
Beyond the finely acquired skills of his dexterous fingers the sleight of hand artist also relies upon other subtleties to accomplish his deceptions: Psychology and timing, language both verbal and physical, help him in deceiving all of the audience’s senses.
Sleight of hand is synonymous with the art of close up magic. It’s a form of magic performed within close proximity to the audience. The objects used are common everyday items, playing cards, coins, paper currency even cell phones. Though anything that fits into the artist’s hands becomes magical. This impromptu style of close range magic makes deception seem totally impossible, yet amazingly, the totally impossible still occurs.
What is close up magic? What is a close up magician?
Close up magic is the intimate art of producing astounding illusions by sleight of hand performed within close proximity to the audience.
The magical objects or props need to fit in the close up magician’s hands. The traditional props are playing cards, coins, cups & balls and even dice. However, anything that fits into the magician’s hands is fair game for his miracles; a cell phone, a pen, paper napkins, a saltshaker, a coffee cup or a dollar bill.
Unlike the stage performer the close up artist brings his magic right into the audience space. There’s no stage or curtains, no boxes or mirrors, simply an object in the magician’s hands held inches away from the spectator’s eyes. The magic often happens right in the spectator’s hand!
Under these strict, close up and challenging conditions, deception seems utterly impossible. Yet, miraculously, the totally impossible still occurs! Close up magic is by far the most demanding form of the magical arts and when done perfectly it is the most astounding!
Close-up magic is best performed for an audience of 30 or less and can be performed sitting at a table or standing. With the arrival of LSV (large screen video) technology larger groups can be accommodated.
Another form of close-up magic is strolling magic. This style has become popular for social and cocktail hours where guests are standing and mingling in small groups. The close-up magician moves around the room entertaining these smaller groups of guests. Street magic is also a form of close-up magic.
Photo & art credits:
Photo art manipulation by Steven Paul Carlson, portrait photo by Nick Olson
The Coin Magician’s Dream, photo art by Steven Carlson
In the art of close-up-magic, coin magic easily finds its place toward the top of the most challenging skills.
Coins, along with playing cards, are the primary objects in the close-up magician’s repertoire.
Historically coins predate playing cards by a good three to four thousand years.
Coins were first introduced as a method of payment around the 6th or 5th century BC and have been in the magician’s bag of tricks ever since.
In the magician’s hands coins appear, vanish and multiply. They magically move from place to place or from hand to hand, visibly and invisibly. Coins change from sliver to copper and even grow in size. The possibilities of magic with coins is limitless.
Coin magic relies upon the intricate dexterity of the artist. Dexterous skills acquired through years of practice, training and performance.
A master sleight of hand artist’s technique is never seen. To the audience it is invisible. These graceful methodologies lie gently hidden beneath the surface of natural movements and gestures. Only then does the coin magic appear effortless and impossible.
My name is Steven Paul Carlson, I have been practicing magic since I was 6 years old and I have been performing magic professionally for over 40 years.
So sit back and relax and enjoy the magical ride.
Oh, and please, fasten your seat belts. 😉
Photo & art credits:
Coin and photo art by Steven Paul Carlson, portrait photo by Nick Olson
Alexander Herrmann, better known as Herrmann the Great, came from a family of magicians. He was the youngest of 16 children born to Samuel Herrmann and Anna Sarah (Meyer) Herrmann. His father, Samuel, born in Germany, was a magician but also became a physician. As Samuel’s family began to grow he gave up his magic to practice medicine full time. Samuel moved his new family to France.
Samuel’s first son was Compars “Carl” Herrmann. Compars, opposite from his father, left medical school to go into magic full-time.
Alexander also had a great interest in magic and Compars, took him on as his magic assistant at the young age of 8. They traveled throughout Europe with a very successful show.
Alexander, began his own independent career in magic in 1862 in American. He had a number of very successful tours in England and Europe. But out of respect to his older brother Compars, Alexander moved back to America settling into his own successful magic career.
Alexander was tall and thin and always dressed immaculately. He had wavy black hair and wore a magnificent handlebar mustache with goatee which added to his Mephistophelean appearance.
According to H. J. Burlingame, Alexander Herrmann’s personality presented “an atmosphere of mystery about the magician.” Burlingame also noted that Herrmann was one of the kindest and gentlest of men.
Herrmann died on December 16 1896 at the age of 52. Herrmann’s wife Adelaide, continued her husband’s show becoming the Queen of Magic, the first lady of magic. She performed for 25 years retiring at the age of 75.
Herrmann the Great performed a large stage illusion show but he was best known for his elegant sleight of hand.
A Magician’s Walk in the Park – by Steven Carlson
Being a traditionally trained artist and illustrator I’m more familiar with brushes, pencils and pastels. However I do enjoy experimenting with the digital medium through Photoshop.
I recall the days when manipulating photography involved lots of time in the darkroom a steady hand with an X-acto knife and skill with an airbrush…. 40 years ago Photoshop would have been a true magical miracle!
Another title might be… Bicycles on the Walking Path.
As a sleight of hand artist, or close-up magician, I occasionally get to perform at really fun venues. Such was the case last month in Minneapolis, MN at The Theater in the Round.
It was an evening of magic, manipulation and illusion. In the photo, shown here, I am finishing my close-up magic performance with a classic magical effect called, The Cups & Balls. Here, in a finale I created back in 1975, one of the cups magically fills with pennies and pours out on to the table. Who says, magic doesn’t make any sense… (cents )
The priceless expression on the face of my audience helper, makes this one of my all time favorite magic photos. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
Sleight of Hand Artist, Steven Carlson, performing his elegant style of close-up magic for guests at the beautiful Forepaugh’s Restaurant in St. Paul, MN. The magic event was on Halloween night, a tribute the great escape artist, Harry Houdini.
in 1899 Houdini’s career was going nowhere and he was seriously contemplating retirement from entertainment. But his big break came in St. Paul, MN at the Palm Garden beer hall, (less than a half mile away from the Forepaugh’s mansion) when he met manager Martin Beck. Beck, impressed with Houdini’s handcuff act, advised Houdini to concentrate on the escapes and booked him on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. The rest is history.
Houdini died on Halloween in 1926 he was 52.
Magic with coins is my favorite expression within the performance art of Close-Up Magic. I have worked with this particular “One Coin” routine for approximately 35 years. A magical effect is never finished it just keeps evolving and growing. I sincerely hope you enjoy it!
My thanks to the very talented Kevin MacLeod, for creating the beautiful music and allowing me to use it here.
“Sardana” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
© 2015 Steven Paul Carlson.
This video is copyrighted and may not be used without the written permission of Steven Paul Carlson
You are entering a world of magic and illusion where anything is possible… pick a card… any card. 😉
This is my new magic promo poster, I had lots of fun creating it, I hope you enjoy it.
This is my dream studio. Someday, with a little luck and fortune, that will be where I hang my hat and create 😉
Antiquity of the Soul – Pastel 16” x 20”
One can see and feel the history etched into this man’s face and antiquity its-self reflecting in his eyes. I had great fun painting the bright colored head cloth with its intricate patterns, wrinkles and folds juxtaposed with his face and the similar intricate patterns. This is one of my all time favorite portraits.
I met an individual at an art show who was from this part of the world. He told me that the head wrap they wear, the colors and patterns, tells you what region the person is from. Fascinating!
Look in the center of the Kitty’s paw 😉 I caught this shot by total accident. My greyhound dog Gabbie and I were in Colorado; I was showing my art there at the Renaissance festival. At our apartment, one floor below us lived the cutest and most unique cat. He love to ride in the car and even went for walks on a leash with his human.
One morning during Gabbie’s and my walk there he was sitting on his balcony, very focused on something his little head moving, obviously following something. I could not tell what he was so intent on but I had to get a photo of his extreme focus and concentration. As I clicked the camera his paw shot out at something in the air. I still didn’t know what until I pulled up the photo in my computer. He had smacked a bug right out of the air right off its flight path.
Fa’er•ie gnomé or fa’er•y gnomé n
Pronounced fair-ee nohm
May the reader bear in mind, the information offered here regarding these very shy and illusive creatures, is based on only a small number of sightings since the history of the “big folk” began to be documented. Sightings of Faeriegnome dwellings are fortunately a little more common. Both these sources and recent archaeological discoveries help to provide us with our current knowledge of the Faeriegnome folk, their temperament, attributes and customs.
Faeriegnomes are ancient creatures, tiny, quiet and shy by nature. They were believed to be of simple gnome ancestry but they predate even the earliest gnomish records. They are much smaller than a gnome, but larger than the leaf faerie.
Faeriegnome architecture is known for its clever construction and unique creativity.
The unique coalescence of both the Fae and Gnome bloodlines seems to account for their vast magical abilities, their immeasurable ingenuity and ancient wisdom. It also explains their extreme diminutive size. The size of the average adult male, by their standard of measurement, would be about 54 to 63 digits or fingers, which would be about 2.5 to 5 cm or 1 to 2 inches tall.
Writings predating antiquity indicate Faeriegnomes were a part of the Great Earth Caretakers. Their ability to travel extremely long distances enabled them to keep a watchful eye on the delicate balances of nature. Assisting them in these earthly stewardship responsibilities were their ever present, always faithful walking sticks, ‘Astar’, as they call them. The wood of the astar was from a tree, bush or plant of unknown origin. Interestingly, the astar continued its growth despite being separated from the root. In fact, it had to be regularly pruned or it would quickly outgrow its owner! Ordinarily the astar was quite plain, but on occasion a particularly creative and fastidious Faeriegnome might adorn it with a little silver, gold, gems or even seashells.
The Harp Faerie, as she has been affectionately nicknamed, and like its pair Faerie I, feature the Matrifaerie, a mature, dignified and sophisticated faerie captured here while creating upon the woodland harp. The woodland harp, unlike any other musical instrument, is a living entity. It grows from out of the ground, blossoming and even bearing fruit. Its gossamer, web-like strings produce a sound that few are able to hear. Only the truly ingenuous spirit can perceive its atmospheric musical air. Sylvan dwellers are drawn to the magical recital and a rare, ethereal appearance from a musical muse can be seen if you look quickly.
The artistic and musical collaboration of Steven & Patricia inspired this beautiful title song which appears on Mrs. Carlson’s Creative Harp CD ‘Woodland Opus’.
Flyaway blond hair, freckles, and that faint smile easily makes this one of my favorite portraits.
It’s mid February and I have spring fever! I was hoping this beautiful summer image might hasten the coming of warmer weather.
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” – John Steinbeck,
There are no prints of this piece only the original.
India – pastel 16” x 20”
This stunning face still captivates me; it was an absolutely wonderful portrait to paint. It is one of those rare pieces of my own art that actually hangs in my house. 😉
The textures here also intrigued me; the necklace, the embroidery on her clothing and then creating the sheer effect of the veil.
Like the Viking portrait this too is rendered with pastels. It’s an intricate layering technique using different pastels with a final detail finish of pastel pencil. This layering process gives the portrait an oil painting, oil glaze look.
There are no prints of this work only the original.
The Queen of Hearts, with her charismatic charm, completely enthralls her eight suitors.
Originally I wrote a little story, about a princess, to fit the magical effect of this card trick.
Personally, I loved the story, but after years of performing and testing I found music to be the best accompaniment. I truly hope you enjoy!
Kevin MacLeod created the wonderful music! Let me tell you, Kevin’s one talented guy! Here’s his link.
“Sneaky Snitch” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
© 2015 Steven Paul Carlson.
This video is copyrighted and may not be used without the written permission of Steven Paul Carlson
He was the young son of Bor, the father of the gods. He was a shapechanger, usually appearing as a vigorous man of fifty with long hair and braided beard, wearing the skins of animals and carrying his unfailing weapon called Gungnir. Here he is, in the ages before he gave up one of his eyes and before sacrificing his life in exchange for greater wisdom. Before the time when the other mighty gods would serve him as children serve their father, before he became the god most favored by the Vikings. His name is Odin, the god of the Norseman!
19” x 26” Pastel (LE prints available)
In magic we call this effect, a coin assembly. Coins magically move from one place to another as if attracted and then, in some cases, instantly return to their original locations. This version, of this classic, is particularly intriguing because this happens numerous times in different ways. My first post of this video did not have music so that is the reason for the new posting.
I hope you enjoy!
Music by Kevin MacLeod, “Not As It Seems” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
The Four Season Faeries – Graphite 16” X 20”
Herald of the summer solstice; certainly the most care-free of all her sisters Summer Faerie maintains harmony between prolific spring and fruitful autumn with the long, warm, tranquil days of summertide.
The Faerie’s Secret
16”X20” Mixed medium
Twig Oaklyn Flewinia Thistlebottom…
Whew! That’s quite a name. Fortunately her friends know her simply as Twig, the fun, whimsical, magical faerie that graces the renaissance festivals. The young at heart, who are fortunate enough to meet her, often find themselves sprinkled with faerie dust and presented with a magical gem! But be aware, if you ask what the secret is in her hands, she will only answer with her flute. I hope you are fluent in double piped aulos.