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Interviews - Don Drake

From the stage to the parlour...

What is the Black Art and how can you use it? Find out in our exclusive interview with Black Art master, Don Drake.
If you’ve never used Black Art, you are missing out on one of the most powerful tools in magic. From levitation to decapitation, the Black Art can help you perform just about any miracle you could dream of. While the basic idea is not new (according to Don Drake, it may have been used in a Chinese Dragon Dance as long ago as 200 BC!), it really came into its own in the 19th Century when dark backgrounds and special lighting enabled stage magicians to exploit this technique to the full. In the present day, most people probably think of the Black Art as rather a specialised type of magic, suited only to big stage shows such as those of Omar Pasha. In fact, this is not the case. As Huw Collingbourne discovered when he spoke to the leading Black Art innovator, Don Drake (aka Don Drake).

Huw: You've worked with some great magicians, Don. Out of all of them, which has been the greatest influence on you personally?
Don Drake: There are two actually, Jeff McBride & Darren Romeo (Siegfried and Roy's protégé).

Huw: Apart from Black Art, what other types of magic particularly interest you?
Don Drake: I like close up, having studied under Slydini many year ago, and any magic that carries a lot of misdirection. I also like doing benefits for underprivileged or sick kids.

Huw: For most of us Slydini is one of those almost mythical greats of magic. Can you tell us a bit about him? What impression did he make on you? What was the most important thing you learnt from him?
Don Drake: Tony Slydini and I met in 1959 when I was a demonstrator for The Wizard Shop in NYC. Tony would come around just about every day, and do something for us. When he published his first book, The Magic of Slydini, I got to go to some of his classes, as I was the gofer for the many pictures in the book. Slydini's magic is describable only as a complete misdirection and pure magic! The most important thing I remember about Tony was of course his ability to completely make you look where he wanted you to. He was the master of misdirection.

Huw: Obviously, you are now best known for all the innovations you have introduced in the area of Black Art. How did you first become interested in this and what is it about Black Art that fascinates you?
Don Drake: I became interested in Black Art in 1960, when my mentor, Alwyn Stevenson introduced me to an improved version of the DeGraham Utility Board (Donald Graham Palmer, aka DeGraham, was the first person to do Black Art magic in the parlour - see Linking Rings 1945, and the manuscript by Don Potts, entitled The DeGraham Utility Outfit).
Huw: Forgive my ignorance, but I wonder if you could explain what the DeGraham Utility Board is, exactly?
Don Drake: The DeGraham Utility outfit was a black velvet covered board that allowed the performer to do parlour sized black art tricks, such as silk productions, card vanishes (one sided only), and other impossible looking effects. To quote US Grant: "This was the closest thing to real magic I have ever seen!" DeGraham is credited with the FIRST use of parlour sized black art!

Huw: Probably most magicians would associate Black Art with big, expensive stage shows But your description of ‘parlour sized’ Black Art makes it sound as though maybe this is adaptable to other kinds of magic too. Are there any ways in which Black Art can be adapted for performances on a smaller (and less expensive!) scale?
Don Drake: YES, definitely! That is the whole point of nearly everything I've done so far. The Wizard's Window (my first invention) is based on a portable, parlour sized black board that does miracles at small venues. I also do some amazing stuff with a Black Art close up board and tiny things like coins, etc. My entire lecture is aimed at the practical working magician who does tradeshows, close up and platform magic.

Huw: In terms of close-up black art, what is the minimum basic set-up that would be needed? And what would be the cost?
Don Drake: You're giving me a chance to get in a sneaky ad here. The minimum set-up would be The Wizard's Close Up Board and the cost is around $150.00. Of course you can make your own close up board and props is you have the knowledge and experience. You'll need a triple-velvet covered board (black of course) and props that will 'blend in'. I'm not going to give away all my secrets here, it took me too long to learn them. For more information on this one, check out the website

Huw: Can you give us a few examples of some of the range of effects that can be achieved using Black Art?
Don Drake: You name it, you can do it. And you can do it inexpensively. I'll never understand why people spend thousands of dollars for one big illusion, when for about $1,200 bucks they cans set up an entire Black Art stage and do ANY illusion, cheaper, better and with less hassle! If you doubt the veracity of this, check out Darwin's best selling book ‘Inexpensive Illusions’. He shows you how to improve on, and build almost 40 different classic illusions with a simple black art backdrop and a black art table!

Huw: Of all the Black Art illusions you've ever seen, which would you say is the most remarkable or memorable?
Don Drake: Omar Pasha doing his present day act! Without a doubt! Also, I'd have to mention Richiardi Jr.

Huw: Has modern technology made any significant improvements to the effectiveness of Black Art magic?
Don Drake: You bet. Not only do we have better materials now (Triple Velvet is the best) but lighting is much easier and more portable. In my new book, More Black Art Breakthroughs, I'll be explaining a lot of this type of set up.
Huw: Why is Triple Velvet better than ordinary velvet?
Don Drake: The composition of triple velvet is 35% rayon, and 65% acetate. For some reason this is darker and tougher than normal double velvet. The idea is for the velvet to have a deep pile, and no nap or grain to the finish.

Huw: What about the lighting? Don't you have to have a special lighting set-up to make Black Art magic effective?
Don Drake: NO, not most of the time, IF you use Triple Velvet in the right way. I won't go into details here, but I've gotten away with using the method in terrible lighting situations. Again it's all in the new book.
Huw: Can you give us some idea of the possible lighting situations in which black art can be used? Could it be done in an ordinary room at home, for example? Or in daylight?
Don Drake: I'll give you this much: It can be done in an ordinary room and in daylight, but only when certain conditions exist, either natural or artificial. Sorry but I've put too much research and time into this one.

Huw: OK, so how about a few clues as to what exactly will be in your new book?
Don Drake: There will be an entire chapter on lighting, materials, construction and even many close up black art effects. Black Art has so many uses people never thing of, such as Covert black art, the kind you use that allows you to vanish, produce and change props without visible fluctuation. You can read it all when the book comes out, which should be April at the latest.

Don Drake (aka Don Drake) is best known for his innovations in black art magic. He is author of Don Drake’s Black Art Breakthroughs as well as several books on easy-to-do magic tricks with special decks such as "Gambler's Marked Deck" (De Land), The "Wonder Deck" (Svengali), The "Blank Deck" (Hull's Mental Photography) and the "Invisible Deck" (Ultra Mental). Resident in Las Vegas, Don consults with some of the top names in magic, and continues to produce new and exciting ideas in black art magic. Over 60 performing magicians have used his illusions, including Lance Burton. Visit Don’s web site:




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