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bluemagic
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Why paint a prop with color? I think that color make the prop stand out and stain prop dose not.is there more to it? Because I was looking at Mr. M. Baker magical props.
Bill Hegbli
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It is only personal preference. These days the wholesalers and customers want natural wood finish or staining as you said. I do not like natural wood for stage magic as it will not show up well and look cheap. But the wholesalers want and the wholesalers get what they want.
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MentalistCreationLab
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Why stain or paint? That is a very good question.

To examine this issue lets first look at what Bill Hegbli alluded to when he mentioned what the customers want and what the dealers want. Here is one area within magic building that seems to follow the trends of the mainstream design market not just in magic but in every area around the world where products are manufactured and produced.

Herein we see the masses of people are currently interested in a more natural or environmental friendly look to products. Perhaps this is a revolt against the 1980s and 1990s contemporary looks which today look very tired and old fashioned.

However one must realize that the 80s contemporary movement was itself a revolt against the 1970s glamor movement that occurred in the music and television industries as well as mainstream design. During the 1980s we saw a lot of the same type of glamor color schemes being used but in a new and somewhat toned down or muted way. This muted color palette way may have been a homage of sorts to the Prairie School movement of designers and architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and others during the first half of the 20th century. However this new version of 1980s design took on aspects of the outrageous and over the top design in its overall feel. Where just 30 to 40 years earlier everything produced had a simplified structural modern (1950s) or streamlined (1940s) or was very modular and functional in appearance to keep up with the excitement of the times. But if we look at natural verse's painted during the 1960s when begin to notes that the finish is less important than the materials used. This materiel selection would continue beyond the 1960s. During the 1970s we start to see the plastics that were first popular after the second world war take on new form in the form of clear materiel’s such as Lucite and Acrylic.

During the 1970s we really start to begin to see these design influence of materiel’s coming into magic with the works of Anverdi and the effects of Tenyo. Where in there preferred choice of materiel was a form of plastic. This choice of materiel was do in part that at this time in history plastic was becoming affordable to work with. This was of course decades after it made its first debut to the public wherein previously the price of the raw material was very expensive.

Perhaps this lower price of the materiel gave way to a concept that many magic manufactures would begin to explore and experiment with during this time period of the mid 1970s in the form of the reduction of using good materiel's for materiel's of lesser quality and price. A simple example of this would be Baltic birch to mdf. This shift occurred within the magic production at Mak and Abbotts magic companies. Though mdf was used on a limited basis at Grant it was not a primary materiel choice but more of a secondary wood. Much the way early cabinet makers would use pine for things like backs and drawers instead of using Tiger maple or cherry.

So in short many aspects the same thing applies to paint stain or natural finishing in terms of whats going on now. For example Bamboo is now a preferred materiel sought by the masses although it very expensive at this point and should the price of Bamboo drop like its counterpart Lucite did during the 1970s you will see more magic being made from this wonderful materiel which will have a natural finish.

At this point you should be able to follow my logic with the above historical notes just given.

Now lets look at paint. During the earlier period of magic prop making circa pre1970s we saw the builders making some very nice painted items. If one would look at a simple item that a large number of which were built such as the Egyptian Water Box used here as an example we will see the same reduction in overall quality in terms of the paint. The early boxes featured a more figural design approach. For example this wonderful example shown in a photo here on the Café http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewt......forum=26

Now lets look at a later box produced by Mak http://makmagicworld.blogspot.com/2013/0......box.html shown at top of the page with a few earlier examples shown below. You can see from the photographs of these boxes they are not all the same in terms both of materials and paint quality. In addition you can see a time period reflection occurring as to when the boxes where produced.

Now if we begin to study this construction verse paint issue a bit further we will start to see another shift that begin to make itself known by the 1990s where in the builder started building items of higher quality. This not only applied to materiel choices but to paint as well. This was in part to the masses of magical apparatus buyers were tired of buying props that were made of inferior materials. Here we see a few builders start to emerge in terms of this quality Walter Sheppard, Micheal Baker, Howard Hale, Mel Babcock, Alan Warner and builders like Francois Danis sometime later to name just a few. This quality upgrade was original not carried by the vast majority of magic dealers as they simply did not have it in the budget for pieces of magic of this quality to offer to their customers. Except for a few select dealers such as Stevens Magic Emporium which started back in 1972 by Joe Stevens who was more interested with quality over effect. Although the the effect where outstanding the true beauty of these items lay in the quality of craftsmanship of the props made.

Then by the late 1990s a buyer started to have a choice of quality or trash to perform with. The buyer were aware that quality would not be cheap but by this time the buyers also knew that if they bought the trash and liked it it would break and they would need to buy a replacement at some point. Unlike the quality props form some of the better builders. In this later case the props would wear out long before the broke or the paint would become scratched up so much that the prop needed to be replaced. Not because the prop was junk just because the magi loved it so much he or she just plain wore it out.

Myself I love natural finishes and contrast between paint and naturally finished wood. If you look at the stuff I am making now the finish shows the beauty of the wood and all of the items are made from good materials for the price point. Also I tend to personal prefer natural as opposed to painted. But that by no means means I am opposed to good paint or having a piece custom built when the materiel choice was not my first choice.

Here is an example of that last statement. Two wonderfully crafted items by Micheal Baker that I am very proud to own.

http://i202.photobucket.com/albums/aa120......3085.jpg

In the back of the photograph is the Micheal Baker version of Kangaroo Hopping Silk's which is beautifully made.

The front item is the Devils Nails I ask if I could get one made with a wood box which Micheal was happy to do for an additional fee.

I would like to add that there two Baker items arrived on my doorstep just this morning and I was as giddy as a school bot opening that box. First I unwrapped the Kangaroo Hopping Silk which was as fine as the best I have ever seen made if not a little better in overall quality. The I opened the Devils Nails and the paint took my breath away. That little prop left me speechless for a moment as the paint is outstanding. Thank You Michael Baker. The trick by itself is very cool and the work of Micheal Baker is highly recommended.

In the past I knew Walter Sheppard and always loved the way he worked with materials, paint and decals and in the case of The Devils Nails Micheal Baker has surpassed my expectations of what a magic prop should look like in these terms. This little box is as good if not better in most cases than a lot of the Sheppard stuff I seen and have owned over the many years of collecting this stuff and the Sheppard stuff is really great. In all honesty I if given the choice of buying a good piece of magic produced early Mak (would not buy new Mak and only take the stuff its its given to me free in a pile at the auction with other stuff and even then it often finds its way to someone else pile on the way out), Abbotts or even early U.F. Grant or Micheal Baker I would go with Micheal Baker. That stuff is just that nice.

So when it comes to paint there are many factors that make a good painted prop the biggest is the skill of the craftsman who made it when it was painted. Now lets look at stain or natural finishing which also has a strong place in magic. When it comes to this the concept behind it all is to craft an item that does not look like a magic apparatus of the past. In fact the idea here is to make an item that looks just like it should often this is seen in examples such as the Cameron Chest from Larry Becker or in items such as card boxes. These items should look as normal as possible without looking like a more tradition magic props. Here in lies the ambiances of the magic apparatus.

An example of this would be the coin date prediction box which Dr. Paul and I made in our workshops of which only units will ever exist and were sold by Stevens Magic Emporium now sold out.

http://i202.photobucket.com/albums/aa120......1338.jpg

Any good example of this type of think would be the Bank Night boards that we produce in limited quantities.

http://i202.photobucket.com/albums/aa120......d554.jpg

Or this item of which only 8 units will be ever made

http://www.stevensmagic.com/shop/joe-ber......montana/

Which Joe Stevens told me it was the finest slate he had ever seen. Which says a lot since Joe has sold many fine slates over the years including those made by Thayer and P&L. When he mentioned this to me I knew Dr Paul and I had got it right. Later I would speak with Joe and gain some more information about his statement and basically it came down to a issue of materials and construction techniques used. That made me very happy.

Now my prospective as a known builder of magic props is from a person who used to have to by some of the junk magic stuff while growing up in the 1970s and 1980s so I have some bias when it comes to this type of stuff and I cannot or will not bother building that type of junk even when the price is low only good materials are used except in the cases of some prototypes when whatever is left over is used for proof of concept. While I am one of the growing number of builders who does prefer natural finishes I only use good finishes such as Varnish, shellack and lacquer as I tend to avoid acrylic and poly finishes like the plague.

In addition Walter Sheppard did teach me a few things about how to paint from his point of view which I am very thankful to him for showing me his secret recipe for painting and surface prep. So it may seem a bit odd I do not do more painted stuff who knows I might one day.

So in conclusion of this very long post the choice of Paint verse satin should be one of personal choice. But the bigger issue should be a choice of who made the item verses a choice of paint or stain. Herein quality in my opinion is far more important than an issue is it painted or stained as this will be more of a determination of where and how the item will be used.

For a big stage paint and shiny metal is often the way to go but for a smaller setting such as parlor or close up stain or natural finished items will do very nicely and often provide the user with a image that is a bit different than the normal stuff seen in the hands of a magician.

Well that was kinda long hope that answered some part of your question about paint or stain.

Bill Montana
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In addition to all of the excellent information above I can think of two additional reasons to paint a prop. The first is that the design warrants it. Whether it be a great Oriental box like Michael Baker makes, a duck bucket in the Art Deco style, or a piece like my TARDUS that is supposed to look like something else (see my Magic Woodshop facebook page listed below) sometimes it just needs to be painted. The other reason is that the bright colors that are often used help to conceal the workings of the apparatus.

In short, you can go either way depending on the prop. Whatever you do make sure that the finish is applied properly and looks professional.
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Michael Baker
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First, I'd like to thank those supporting my efforts. I appreciate it. Next I'd like to clarify a point regarding the Devil's Nails. As sold on my website, the trick comes with a cardboard box that is decoupaged with the devil image, as shown on my website. I use these boxes to keep the retail cost down, and thus get this very cool trick into the hands of more people at an affordable price.

Bill Montana asked me if I could make a custom set for him with a wood box. I did, and it has the same devil image. But, the wood box is considerably more labor intensive, being made from scratch. Because of this, I do have to charge more for it, and I only make them by request. This also means that I work that project in as I have time. Bill was quite patient until I finished his box.

Now, I would like to comment on the paint/stain issue. I was unclear what position the OP took on this. Is making a prop stand out a good thing or not?? So, I deliberately sat out to see what direction this thread would go.

My thoughts are this... If you are a performer, what your props look like should be entirely based upon your act and your character. If you are reading this topic, then you probably already have an interest in magic building. This means that you may already have a proclivity for designing and building your own props. If so, I highly encourage you to do this. Skills improve over time, and there is no joy like outfitting your show with props that you built for your show yourself.

OK, not everyone has all those skills in place.. at least not now. There was a time that I certainly didn't. For those folks, I might suggest learning the useful skill of refinishing. I see magicians do this all the time, to render a ready-made prop with a new, fresh, look that is customized to their show. Check out Master Payne... he does this a lot and is quite good at it.

If you prefer natural finishes to painted ones, I say, go for it. Some performers want that look for their props. I have certainly made my share of natural wood items, and I have the photos and testimonials to prove it. I think some types of props require that look to be convincing. It depends on the image and impression one wishes to convey.

But mostly, I make painted props. Why? I do it because that is what my customers want. Had it not been for the very encouraging push I was given by a handful of magicians and collectors, I kind of doubt I would have started making props with the "oriental" look. I was a full-time performer for a few decades, and the look of my show was certainly not like the props I now make.

However, I have developed a real appreciation for this theme in magic, I have done a lot of research to study the past masters like Okito, and I feel my task is to channel, not their actual work, but to understand the philosophy behind the work they did. Artistically, this is quite an undertaking, and I think I've done a fairly good job at it. At least there are enough other magicians and collectors out there that think so to the point that it keeps me busy and in business.

I know my stuff doesn't appeal to everyone. I understand that and am perfectly OK with that.

Now speaking of collectors, the choice between paint or natural finish is entirely a matter of taste and what one wants in their collection. There are as many different mindsets among collectors as their are magic props to satisfy them. Some only collect "oriental". Some only collect natural wood. Some prefer to display a riot of color, some like polished nickel, brass and copper. Some prefer only miniature magic, and some collect by maker alone. Some have very eclectic tastes and collect only what "speaks" to them, even though those taste vary widely, while others collect anything and everything that they don't already have (and sometimes more than one of those).

The biggest mistake any of us can make is to be critical of what appeals to another magician. We should talk about what we like, not what we don't, and never as if our "likes" are the best.

Except for junk.... don't buy junk. LOL! Smile
~michael baker
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Payne
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Quote:
On Jun 25, 2014, Bill Hegbli wrote:

I do not like natural wood for stage magic as it will not show up well and look cheap.




Yeah, we wouldn't want hard to see cheap looking props in our shows now would we Smile

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Bill Hegbli
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Quote:
On Jun 26, 2014, Payne wrote:
Quote:
On Jun 25, 2014, Bill Hegbli wrote:

I do not like natural wood for stage magic as it will not show up well and look cheap.


Yeah, we wouldn't want hard to see cheap looking props in our shows now would we Smile


And I would say that is why no one performs with them. Setting on a shelf does not constitute being used on/in a magic show.
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Payne
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Quote:

On Jun 26, 2014, Bill Hegbli wrote:

And I would say that is why no one performs with them. Setting on a shelf does not constitute being used on/in a magic show.



I won the 2005 Stan Kramien Jamboree Stage Contest with them as well as using them in one season in my Library Programs. So they do more than "sit on a shelf".
"America's Foremost Satirical Magician" -- Jeff McBride.
MentalistCreationLab
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This topic got me thinking. So why not have the best of both worlds.

Here is a little something I made up today in the spirit of the paint or natural finish.

http://i202.photobucket.com/albums/aa120......2b3f.jpg

The black pieces are applied to the main panel. The whole thing is made from 10mm Baltic birch.
Michael Baker
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There you go! Looks really nice, Bill!

I recall seeing an Okito piece that was natural wood with some paint and decals applied. The combination is gorgeous.
~michael baker
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gimpy2
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I build nothing that is painted. Its not because I think paint is a bad thing its because for me working with the natural tones of wood fit my skill set best. Its a special bonus for me when I can use different types of wood, Inlay, special joints or marketry to help create the magic.
bluemagic
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What type of paint to use?
Michael Baker
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Finger paints are fun, as I recall... um, wait... What are you painting?
~michael baker
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bluemagic
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Soft wood or plywood .
George Ledo
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Quote:
On Jun 26, 2014, Michael Baker wrote:
My thoughts are this... If you are a performer, what your props look like should be entirely based upon your act and your character.

Right on the button.

I have seen way too many performances where the props not only had nothing to do with the performer's style, but also had nothing to do with each other. It was like he went to the magic shop and just bought a bunch of stuff at random and threw it all together. This can work out fine in a character act, where it's all supposed to look disjointed, but not in a "serious" act where the performer is trying to come across like a magician and not a prop demonstrator.

That's been one of my pet peeves for years: "I'm a magician, and I have the trick boxes to prove it."
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Michael Baker
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Quote:
On Jun 27, 2014, bluemagic wrote:
Soft wood or plywood .


Begin with sanding sealer and then primer. There have been threads in this forum that describe the process.
~michael baker
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Michael Baker
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~michael baker
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bluemagic
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Thank you
MRSharpe
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Another way to look at this is what type of wood is being used. If a fine hardwood is what is being finished there may be no need to stain or paint as a simple clear coat as used for fine furniture may be all that is required. Also, cheap wood--like plywood, pine or poplar--can't be disguised to appear as fine wood with a simple stain.
Custom Props Designer and Fabricator as well as Performer from Indiana, USA
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