Creating Enchantment: Sources of Inspiration


I just returned from visiting Jeff McBride at the Magic & Mystery School in Las Vegas where we discussed ideas for new illusions and types of magic. Have you ever wanted to invent something new in magic, but didn’t know where to begin or feel you’re not creative? Here are some tips on how to get started…


Magicians often ask this question when soliciting advice about creating new illusions. Do you begin with a method or sleight and then find applications for it or do you start with the illusion idea and work your way backwards to find a solution?

This is the wrong question to ask. These are both valid approaches and you shouldn’t limit your imagination by only choosing one or the other. In fact, these aren’t even the only 2 choices!

As a magical inventor I often get asked, “Where do you come up with all of your ideas?” I draw inspiration from many different facets of life for making magic. You just have to keep an open mind. And never worry about price when first dreaming your dreams. You can always scale the vision back and cut corners in the beginning, and then evolve it over time. Or you can let the idea germinate for weeks, months, or even years until you are able to realize it. As Jeff says, it’s a good idea to keep a journal of your ideas so you don’t forget them later.


Start with the effect.

Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of being able to turn invisible. What would it look like if you really had that power? How would you prove it: floating objects, footsteps in sand, or splashing in water? Would you put on a ring or a cloak, or simply fade away? Would you be completely invisible or merely transparent, like the cloaking device in the movie “Predator?” (Be wary of Rick Johnsson’s “Too Perfect Theory” when selling the effect to your audience.) If you were invisible and you drank a glass of milk, would your audience be able to see the milk inside you? There are no right or wrong answers because it’s your artistic interpretation. Once you have a vision of what you want to accomplish, you can then work on potential solutions or break it up into smaller parts.

Start with the method.

You may invent a new sleight or method and brainstorm effects that take advantage of it. Maybe you came up with a variation or an improvement over an existing method. Look at it from every angle and try to milk all the possibilities. Then show your fellow magicians and they’ll often give you even more good ideas or a slightly better handling. It doesn’t even have to be a new sleight. Let’s face it—if you can force a card, you can come up with original routines.

Start with the music.

Listen to songs on the radio and ask yourself, “What does this song mean? What act could I do with this as the background music?” The songs don’t have to be about magic or even have lyrics—look inside yourself and find the magic within them. Depending on your favorite type of music, many songs may not apply. But you only need one or two inspirations to add a good musical act in your show. David Copperfield often incorporates contemporary music into his stage illusions to keep him current. Remember that appropriate sound effects can also complement key moments of your routine.

Start with the lighting.

I like experimenting with many different sources of light and energy to make magic seem, well, more magical! I’m convinced that Rocco’s ubiquitous D’Lite can be one of the most magical experiences you can give to your audience if presented correctly. My stage illusion, SoulCatcher, began by crossing a romantic love story with my experiments with lights. Don’t underestimate the importance of R&D. Every other industry invests in it; so should you. You can also experiment with the lack of lighting, such as with black art and shadow illusions.

When performing stage shows, also take into account the house lighting. When the house lights are up, the mood is informal and focused on the audience. When the house lights are down, all eyes are on the stage. We can use this to our advantage. Here’s a Reverse Gravity illusion based on this principle… Imagine the magician turns the house lights on to borrow money from a volunteer. The house lights go dark and a single spotlight is on the magician on stage as he floats the borrowed bill. Then the house lights are slowly raised to reveal random objects floating throughout the theater over the audience’s heads, such as pens, money, watches, purses, and cell phones. The objects mysteriously rise toward the ceiling as the house lights dim again, creating the illusion that borrowed objects just floated away and disappeared into the darkness. Before anyone claims they were “robbed,” the magician announces that all vanished objects have now been magically restored to their previous locations.

Start with the props.

Always be on the lookout for new ideas, objects, or situations which you can turn into something enchanting.

Even everyday routines like shopping can contain a wellspring of ideas. I personally like to walk around stores and just imagine what I could do with every item on the shelves. You can find ideas in shopping malls, jewelry stores, clothing, arts & craft stores, furniture, electronics, office supplies, grocery stores, & restaurants.

Some props don’t even know they’re props yet! To my wife’s chagrin, I’ve bought many random objects over the years with the noble intentions of “Some day, I’m going to do something with that.” Some paid off; some didn’t. (Here’s a money-saving tip: unless it’s an object you can never find again, leave it in the store until you think of a use case and then go back and purchase it.)

Start by improving on an existing magical effect/prop.

Don’t be afraid to use props you already own in new and different ways. A Vanishing Deck, for example, can be used for productions as well as vanishes. An Invisible Deck can be presented as a cell phone trick. You can even combine props, gimmicks, and sleights to form something totally original.

Start with the environment.

When you’re walking outside, imagine doing magic with leaves, rocks, water, sand, animals, or clouds. Maybe you’re going to visit another country and you want to customize illusions to their culture. For a show in India, I made a borrowed carrom chip penetrate a sealed water bottle, revealed a card selection as a Henna art tattoo, and performed magic with mangoes.

When you’re at work, imagine magic with computers, office equipment, chairs, rubber bands, etc. Become “Magic-Aware.” For instance, there are many impromptu illusions you can do with food. When performing Gospel magic at a church’s “Shrove Tuesday” pancake dinner, I had a card selected, did a torn-and-restored-pancake, asked the minister to stab the pancake, and the selected card was baked inside. At the same event, I also did an impromptu “Zombie” pancake (very challenging when using real pancakes).

Start with an emotion.

Most magicians think magic should only produce mystery or laughter. The human experience has a much broader palette and so should your magic. Love, hate, joy, pain, anger, sorrow, greed, melancholy, regret, wistfulness, happiness, thankfulness, embarrassment, fear, horror, playfulness, surprise, vengeance, jealousy, gullibility, excitement, hunger, empathy, spirituality, hope, faithfulness… Paint with a bigger brush.

Start with your favorite hobby or interest (outside of magic).

Jeff McBride recommends in his master class that you make a list of the tricks you know and a second list of your non-magic interests. Then draw lines between the two lists and see if you can combine the two while simultaneously conveying your human interest to the audience. Be yourself. Tell your story so the audience can resonate with it. Jamy Ian Swiss said in “Shattering Illusions” that what audiences want most from a performer is a point of view.

Start with the audience’s experience.

What do you want the audience to experience? Do you want them to be a passive or active participant? Are you looking for an illusion where magic happens around the audience, to the audience, with a volunteer, or with borrowed objects from the audience? Do you want the volunteer to end up with a souvenir they can take home? A complete show will likely have the audience experience all of these things at different times to increase texture. Levitating yourself evokes a different response than, say, levitating your silver ball on stage with a black cloth, levitating your assistant on a table, floating a borrowed bill, or making a (non-stooge) audience member be suspended in mid-air. Will you be performing for lay audiences or magicians? Who is your target audience? You do different magic for a stage show than you would for birthday parties and rest homes. Tailor your magic to your target audience.

Start with the audience’s senses.

While magic is first and foremost a visual art, let’s expand our horizons. The standard human being has 5 senses: Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, and Smell. (OK, perhaps women have 6.) 🙂

What if we took away sight? Could you still do magic?

I once had the challenge and pleasure of performing for a blind man who went to my church. Throughout his entire life, no one had ever shown him magic. Imagine going through life without ever experiencing magic. So, I pulled out my sponge balls and made them multiply in his hands while his sighted daughter watched. After performing several more effects, I worked my way up to what would be a very emotional illusion for my blind friend—the Finger Chopper. I let him and his daughter examine it thoroughly and made sure they were physically and emotionally ready before we attempted it. It took a lot of courage and trust for him to let me make a metal blade penetrate through his finger, his primary conduit to the universe around him. After it was over, he cried and said it was the most wonderful experience.

You don’t have to perform for the blind to take advantage of the other human senses. How could you enhance your effects with other senses? Would your illusion benefit from the addition of music or sound effects? When you’re doing Shinkoh’s arm-twisting illusion, let the people around you feel so they know it’s your real hand and arm. If you’re out to dinner with your friends, invite them to bite into a roll to find their vanished bill. Instead of producing a fake flower, produce a real one and give it to your volunteer so she can “stop and smell the roses.” If you can’t bring the real senses to your audience, incorporate adjectives and elements in your scripted patter that conjures imagery, sounds, smells, and tastes in their mind.

Start by watching other performers.

Sometimes you may get inspired by watching another magician, actor, comic, singer, dancer, or performer. While it’s wonderful to get inspired by these individuals, be careful that you don’t copy their styles or acts. Remember to be yourself.

Start with a deadline.

Every month our local I.B.M. Ring meets and defines a meeting theme in advance. This is one of my favorite motivations to invent new, topical illusions. I consider it a challenge each month to create something new. They’re not all good, but they’re all good experience. Give yourself room to fail. You may try many times before finding a gem, but your peers can give you great feedback. Magic meetings, conventions, competitions, and upcoming shows are all great motivators for the creative spirit.

Start with a name.

Sometimes you can run across a cool word or name and build an effect around it. I did this a lot when creating illusions with crystals and gemstones, oozing pipe dreams out of simple words or phrases. In fact, that’s an enchanting name right there—“Pipe Dream!” I’ll let you unlock what it means and invent that illusion.

Start with a genre.

Let’s consider some existing genres in magic. These are not exhaustive, but a large percentage of magic falls into one or more of these categories.

  • Close-Up Magic
  • Stage Magic
  • Parlor Magic
  • Card Tricks
  • Coins/Money Magic
  • Mentalism
  • Rope Magic
  • Illusions / Grand Illusions
  • Magic for Kids
  • Escape Artist / Publicity Stunts
  • Endurance Artist
  • Street Magic
  • Comedy Magic
  • Animal Magic

Set aside some time to brainstorm ideas in each of the various categories. Then ask yourself, are there any categories other than this? Can I invent my own new genre? The answer is a resounding “YES!” In fact, doing so is one of the best ways to make you stand out from the crowd. Remember, we’re magicians. Nothing is impossible!

Scott Shelton

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