Express an Idea Before You Choose a Medium
Photo courtesy of Horia Varlan.

Express an Idea Before You Choose a Medium

Written by Emilie

Topics: Creativity

This post is by Joshua Lundquist.

“Express an idea before you choose a medium,” would be a quote from me if I were addressing a bunch of young artistic types in an auditorium somewhere…

But really, that is how I feel.  That is what I keep telling myself.  I don’t want to limit myself or confuse things by choosing a medium.

I started NaNoWriMo basically thinking “I am going to write a book.”  The minute I started writing, what came out was exactly not a story or a fiction or a book.  And every day thereafter was the same.  I’d sit down to write and I wrote, but none of it was book material.   I stopped halfway through, happy to know that the ideas I was writing would be used someday, but not for a book.  I then decided to change focus to something else.

We often cling on to individual mediums, as if that is what we were meant to do: Just choose a format and ideas will come.  That to me is the old mentality of the specialist.

That’s fine, but mastery is like a phantom with no voice.  I don’t know what it looks or sounds like, and I don’t care.

How many times have I thought “I’m gonna _______ a _______” (Insert the proper verb matching the proper medium, like make and film.

No I’m not.  The reality is: I’m not gonna make a film so much as I’m gonna express an idea.

The idea is king.

It shouldn’t really matter what the medium is for now, know what I mean?

It’s not about mastery and not about medium, it’s about getting the idea out there in it’s best form, in it’s fanciest outfit.  Getting that damn idea out as purely and potently as possible.

I think limiting yourself to a medium is exactly that: limiting.  And not in a “boundaries / rules are good for creativity” way.  I think in the idea stage, you should be open to any and all manifestations of the idea.  Just try it.

Write it down, sure, but before you get all NaNoWriMo on it, record yourself talking about it.  If it’s a story, act out some lines.  Pretend it’s a radio play or a movie.  Search the internet for photos that would be scenes in your movie.  Or make drawings of them, as if it were a graphic novel.

All this may seem like a waste of time, right?  That’s kind of my point.

We write things off as ‘a waste of time’ when really other excuses are lurking in the background.  Things like “I don’t know how to do that” or “I can’t see myself doing that” or “It sounds too difficult…”  Thus we refuse ourselves the chance to put some time into learning a new medium

I’m trying to get you to indulge in the pleasure of wasting time, by putting this idea into it’s various forms.

What feels best?  You may have a knack for radio plays that you never thought you had.  Weirder things have happened.  Your visual sense of this idea or story might be better than how you describe it in words.  You may find yourself delving into animation tutorials for the next three weeks, and learn a bunch of skills!  You may be happy to discover something new.

Your Turn

So please, go ahead and waste some time trying out your idea in a few different amalgamations, let me know, did you find the best expression of it?

Have you already tried this?

If so, how did it turn out?

Let me know in the comments!

Joshua Lundquist is a multipotentialite living in Tokyo, embracing the ideas of “process” and “adaptation” in his work, helping people try new processes for their own work, urging artists to connect in a real way with fans and each other and monetize their creativity. Joshua is the creator of An Incredible Waste of Time and a proud member of the Puttytribe.


  1. Joshua says:

    I just want to take the opportunity here to thank Emilie for creating this amazing community of people who are some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met, and for helping me relieve myself of the pressure of having to conform to the specialist mentality.

    I’m inspired by this community and so excited to see it grow!

  2. Rory P. says:

    This seems potentially difficult to apply to my process, but would probably lead to greater/higher quality productivity in the end. I’ll try to keep this idea in mind.

    • Joshua says:

      Rory – I hear you, I would say this is a suggestion more so for people who don’t have a process but want to put out an idea. My ideas usually go through a few amalgamations, but not always. I kinda wrote this to remind myself to keep this in mind, too.

      It’s when I do apply one area to another area, I get a real explosion of ideas and sometimes inspiration springs forth.

      Thanks so much for the comment!

  3. David Delp says:

    Oh, this goes way back. I can’t imagine starting with the medium. I remember in school I majored in sculpture because it had the most electives. Senior year I asked my sculpture teacher, “I’m working on a film. Can I show you that and get credit for sculpture?” Since then, I’ve written plays, songs, and essays, drawn, painted, silkscreened, burned, shouted…. whatever matched the idea.

    I have to say that as I’ve grown, my depth in any area has been, well, not so deep. While I’m clearly a Multipotentialite, and very broad in my experiences and means of expression, I still sometimes yearn to be more focused. There’s a system of thinking that suggests, “If you operate in the extreme, you will alway benefit by leaning toward the other extreme, if only temporarily.”

    So I’m focusing on 3 media this year as an experiment in depth, a swing, albeit temporary, to the narrow-ish.

    Thanks for this post Joshua!

  4. Sarah says:

    Great post Josh, I really get what you mean. So many times I start writing a story as a novel and then half way through the 3rd chapter I’ll realise ‘this is supposed to be a screenplay’. A lot of the time that would stop me from writing it, or even cause me to scrap the entire novel and start from scratch as a screenplay. What I /should/ have done is finish the /story/ in whatever form that needed to take and then use that as something to work on when building the screenplay.

    Thanks for the reminder! And thanks for being an awesome member of the Puttytribe :)

  5. Joshua says:

    David – Ha, you sound like a true multipotentialite! Great that your professor was supportive of it. Sounds a lot like Evergreen, the liberal arts college I went to in Olympia, Washington…

    I can see the benefit for people like us to try on narrow-ish-ness for a change, especially for big projects. Interesting New Year’s resolution!

    I think this year I’m going to be narrow-ish in terms of focusing on creative ways of monetizing, whereas up until now my interests (music, film, design, comedy) have been purely for the act of creating things and using their conceptual framework for other things.

    I’m surprised to hear you say your depth hasn’t been deep as you’ve grown. Although I understand the desire for depth, and I get impatient with new interests (especially programming languages or any new software), wishing I could know them deeply right now.

    Thanks for the insight!

    • Emilie says:

      Heh just wanted to pipe up. I didn’t know you went to Evergreen, Josh! My girlfriend went there. When did you graduate? From all I’ve heard, it sounds like a multipotentialite heaven.

      • Joshua says:

        Emilie, totally, I meant to mention that along the way!

        When you said you were giving talks at schools, Evergreen immediately came to mind! You should definitely try to speak there!

        And yeah, Evergreen is a multipotentialite heaven, (as long as you can manage your time well… that was a struggle for me at first) ;-)

        The dilemma I had was that since there was no enforced curriculum, all the choices were kinda paralyzing. They’d need someone like you to sort of help people like us learn how to smoosh things together.

        There wasn’t anyone there to reassure me it was ok to not choose one thing, if that makes sense. I just went ahead and acted like a multipotentialite, all the while feeling a bit guilty about it.

        But I loved the school, professors sponsor students doing their own projects, completely independently. I made a short film there my winter quarter, and an art installation my last quarter.

        Everyone was great, except for the guy who told me “music is an incredible waste of time,” not the best advice. But in a way, I owe him for giving me the title of my site!

        • Emilie says:

          Wow, that’s so interesting.

          I’ve been thinking more about this post. I wonder if starting with the medium, as we usually do, can actually be a good way to come up with ideas. But then you take that idea and step away from the medium, and instead try to find the best medium for it.

          This is pretty much what you did with NaNo. So I wonder if beginning with a medium isn’t such a bad way to spawn ideas in the first place. Then you step away. The problem comes when you become married to the medium, or confuse the medium for the idea. Fascinating.

          • Joshua says:

            Super succinct wise words, Emilie! I didn’t mean to discredit the often usual approach of starting with a medium, (but I think you get that). ;-)

            I just wanted to throw a wrench in the thinking that sometimes gets us locked, blocked, stuck and makes us throw away ideas because of ‘practical’ reasons… And perhaps to reassure the me from years ago to not constrict my ideas with mediums, just to find the most efficient way to express the idea.

            I used to get hung up on this “I have to write a screenplay, because I want to make a film” mentality. Which means in order to express whatever idea I had, I’d put myself through all that preparation. There’s always an easier way.

            I could have just jumped right in to a film, figuring it out as I went along… Or like I suggest above, gather images and write a little graphic novel, if that was more suitable.

            I’m definitely against the medium defining who we are as creators, and that is perhaps the other point.

            Perhaps a more suitable title would have been “Express An Idea, Not Just A Medium” which would exactly be about not confusing the medium for the idea. (Do I have permission to change it?)

            Or even better “Don’t Be Married To The Medium” which would help people free themselves creatively, which is all I’m suggesting.

            Good idea, Emilie! I wonder what this would be called if it was a book?

  6. Emilie says:

    Hey Josh,

    We’re totally on the same page. I wasn’t being critical, just pushing my own thinking further.

    I like your current title. :)

    • Joshua says:

      Good discussion guys! Sorry I have nothing to add, I haven’t read any Marshall McLuhan, but I bet there was a class on him at Evergreen. ;-)

      Emilie, no problem, I totally didn’t think u were being critical, I’m just self-critical!

      Anyway, sorry I didn’t exactly reply to yr last comment, what I meant to add was:

      Yes, that’s a great idea – starting out with one medium, being aware that it’s just something to start you off, a medium you’re ‘borrowing’ to get going, and then as the idea progresses, throwing that off and seeing what other medium you can dress it up in. Like changing clothes.

      Wiki says Marshall McLuhan considers even a lightbulb a medium. Might he consider pants a medium, then?


  7. Emilie says:


    I’ve actually always disagreed with Marshall McLuhan, (ever since we had to read him non-stop in coms theory). I now have a much better idea of why I disagree with him. His theory is true in that it perfectly sums up the way specialists think about the world. The way that other people lump us into categories and tack on identities based on our chosen medium. But it doesn’t describe the truth, only how the status quo perceive art. I find it highly problematic for multipotentialites.

    • David Delp says:

      HI Emille,

      Thanks for your response. I love the discussion and as a multipontentialite, I love the reminder “Don’t be Married to the Medium.”

      I never thought of McLuhan’s catch phrase as speaking about specialists or individual artists, but I was never forced to read his work. I think more about how the medium itself is the idea, that they can’t be separated. I once had an idea about adding stickers to graffiti to create commentary on a medium that was supposed to be a stolen, stand-alone broadcast. For me the idea was the medium: public commentary about illicit painting on walls.

      For me McLuhan’s idea is liberating. For another example, the painter Robert Ryman only works in white but doesn’t view himself as a minimalist at all. When I first saw a retrospective of his work, I realized how his apparent self-limitation was actually an exploration of multipotentiality. White was the medium, his message, his idea, but its potential is unbounded. Needless to say, as a multipotentialite, I was moved. Instead of “how boring” which was my mindset entering the exhibit, I left feeling “how exciting!”

      I must excuse myself for stepping into the conversation dramatically or perhaps ignorantly. I haven’t read enough about the plight of multipotentialites to be sensitive to the larger conversation. Now, I will read on!

      • Emilie says:

        Hi David,

        No worries. You can step in anytime. :) I may have been too quick to jump on McLuhan anyway.

        I guess it depends how you interpret it. In fact, I’m reading the wiki page now and it says:

        “The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.”

        The key word that I pull out is “perceived.” And in that sense, I agree with him. I think people do marry medium and message when experiencing someone else’s art. I just see it as problematic when a creator can’t make the distinction.

        Your graffiti idea sounds really cool. I will have to check out Robert Ryman’s work as well.

        Great discussion!

        • Lynne says:

          I just have to chime in about McLuhan. “The medium is the message” is not about interpretation or perception of some content in a medium. It is about a medium itself. McLuhan believed (and most scholars in the field of media ecology agree) mediums (speech, print, television, radio, computer screens, cell phones, etc.) carry their own message, separate from the content transmitted (in this discussion the “idea” is McLuhan’s “content”) through that medium.

          The message created by the medium itself is, according to McLuhan, so pervasive and at the same time so subtle it is generally undetected by most users. McLuhan believed that new mediums changed culture and by extension human beings dramatically and fundamentally and that it is difficult for any of us to understand what those changes have been because we have already been so influenced by these “mediums”.

          That said, McLuhan did not necessarily see new media technologies as necessarily bad, but he absolutely did not believe that new mediums were value neutral.

          McLuhan is fascinating but often frustrating to read. But it is important to understand that he saw a medium as separate from the “content” or “idea” put forward through that medium.

          He was definitely a multipotentialite. :)

          • Joshua says:

            Hey Lynne, thanks for clearing that up. I read the Wikipedia page specifically written about McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” phrase, and was unsatisfied. Can we add your definition to the wiki entry? The one up there is poorly written / researched, I gathered.

            Reading your comment made me think of what a perfect example “blog” is as a medium, of a blog being “subtle yet pervasive” in influencing the message. I’ve heard some people sigh about blogs, as if the word itself meant something more than the expression of a person’s opinions or ideas. I’ve wondered what this knee-jerk sigh is connected to, is it just that people think it’s cliche?

            Which is why it’s great that sincere, engaging blogs exist where the writers and commenters are equal and show their identity and are thoughtful and civil. We’re expanding the definition of the medium of blogging, possibly.

          • Lynne says:

            Hi Josh-

            I read over the page. I think the confusion comes from the initial definition at the top of the entry. The discussion gets more sound as it proceeds. If you feel there is something of use here that would help clarify the idea, feel free to use it.

            The title of the book from which this famous quote is derived Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man is really fundamental to his overarching theme and thinking. It is an incredibly influential concept in various fields, but imho, not nearly as influential as it should be.

            Your example of “blogging” would be a medium within a medium for McLuhan, but it does illustrate media as an extension of man. The medium itself extends you and I into this conversation and fundamentally changes our experience of time and space.

            Please do not take my words here as indicative of McLuhan’s entire thought. He could never be summarized so simply. Although, I do hope I am representing this idea of his fairly. The full text of that book is available here and well worth exploring:

            If I may give a bit of advice on reading McLuhan, beware of reading him out of context. He happened upon many memorable and cryptic sentences in his often rambling discussions (as this discussion shows), but you can ferret out his meanings. His writing have been described as circuitous, and I agree, but he offers fascinating observations and inferences (this was published in 1964). He was a thinker ahead of his time and I think his ideas are for the most part still ahead of our time.

            This also seems a bit of a distraction from your initial point, which is a liberating one: to allow the idea to dictate its form of expression and to be open to the possibility of new (to us) or mixed media as a means of expression. Some cognitive mapping of that process of problem solving with medium(s) would be fascinating.

            Hyper mash-ups?

          • David Delp says:

            Lynne, thank you for the clarification. I think Neil Postman is more accessible than McLuhan though perhaps less sophisticated. I wonder who the contemporary media theorists are. Who took McLuhan’s torch after Postman, or next to him, or away from him? Postmodernism almost seems all about the medium. Blogging for instance. I have yet to read McLuhan-esque critiques of blogging? I think Postman’s first thought about internet shopping was about the loss of community so what does it mean to have community around blog comments? What does the form tell us about ourselves? How is commenting on this blog an idea in itself? It certainly is a relatively new form of community.

          • Lynne says:

            Hello David-

            I find Postman is a much bigger curmudgeon than McLuhan (He decried being labeled a “jeremiah” for counting the intellectual and social losses incurred by television– both the medium and the content of that medium in “Amusing Ourselves to Death”)

            I don’t find Postman to be a lightweight at all. He has a different style and is more linear in his written presentations than McLuhan, which makes his thought a little more accessible.

            There are a lot of media theorists around. Probably the most populist right now would be Sherry Turkle at MIT, but there are many others, particularly at Fordham and NYU… Corey Anton at Grand Valley State U, Steven Pinker at Harvard… You can check out the Media Ecology Association for more.

            I think Postman might see some value in blogging, but like any communication it varies in value. McLuhan had big concerns about how mediated communication disembodies us and the metaphysical and religious problems that presents. He actually used the term “discarnate” and claimed that a discarnate person has no identity, and a person with no identity becomes violent. What does it mean to communicate without the presence of another body? What does it mean for us when this is our primary or majority form of communication? Does it change the way we see ourselves and others? Those would be some of the questions a McLuhan-esque scholar might ask.

            This is a very cordial group. That is certainly not the case for all blogs, but perhaps for the majority of them. There is evidence to be collected, for sure. Media ecology studies the media-created environment and its effects. Some media ecologists are studying whether reading on a screen differs significantly from reading the printed word and what that means for our cognition. Others are studying whether these environments create or reduce alienation. Others how internet surfing alters the way our brains process information and thousands of other things.

            I’m curious about the connections you see between mediums and postmodernism? Thanks for your response.

          • David Delp says:

            Hi Lynne,
            I feel like I started an esoteric branch of this conversation, unintentionally, but I can’t let go of it, especially with that question of yours.

            Emile, please advise. What do I do when the side-conversation is getting away from the intent of the article?

            And Lynne, here’s a brief reply:

            In our postmodern society, where everything is “borrowed,” the idea of “authoring” anything seems ridiculous, if not simply romantic. “Authoring a Blog” would be a medium for example. I’m not sure I can step outside that medium to make a good assessment of the message, but I’m guessing it’s a statement on the destruction of authorship.

            Thanks for the reading list!

  8. Just popping in to say I’m new here and glad to have found puttylike! I’m really enjoying this conversation about creativity. I’ve found that the ideas flow out and can take many different forms. I like to challenge myself and take an idea or theme and see if I can express it in a variety of ways. Each form reveals a new view. Here’s to not limiting the idea or the medium :)

    • Joshua says:

      Sheila – Great to have you here! I’m just a guest blogger, but I think you’ll find a ton of ways to *not* limit yourself or your ideas on here. The puttylike / puttyrtibe community has been the most supportive group of people I’ve ever come in contact with. ;-)

      “Each form reveals a new view.” – I love that, it makes me think of ideas as multi-dimensional, and each face is one view of that idea. I’m gonna steal that quote, if that’s ok ;-D

  9. Kastle says:

    Two things that really stand out to me in this post.
    1. “indulge in the pleasure of wasting time”
    2. “it’s about getting the idea out there… in it’s fanciest outfit.”
    1. I am a point in my life that sucks. But, one thing I have is time and instead of indulging in wasting time to expand my ideas and be creative I just sit there and stew over my inactivity. I need to indulge and be thankful for this time so that when these ideas come to fruition and I don’t have as much time, I will be grateful for the time I had.
    2. I love to sew, and I find myself at this obscure fabric store in town gawking over the plethora of material and notions and just thinking of the things I could make, so this ‘dress up and idea’ takes on a kinda literal sense. Of course each idea takes time. However, coupled with the time I have, AND the experience gathered to make my dream come true, I should be able to indulge and dress-up my ideas to sell to the world. After all, aren’t ideas more than fabric and notions? I have Photoshop and Final Cut Pro and all the things I need to make something amazing. I’m just gathering the courage.

  10. Kastle says:

    *I wish I could edit…

    • Joshua says:

      “I have … all the things I need to make something amazing. I’m just gathering the courage.”

      Kastle – I know how this is, totally. Nothing wrong with gathering courage. I think some people push a bit hard on the ‘just do it’ end of creativity. Sometimes things need to take, one at a time.

      And even when you start, it really sometimes takes time and taking a few boulders all the while knowing you’re getting closer to tackle any new medium.

      The other sad reality is, even if the idea is so great that you’re dying to do it now, some ideas just don’t get made right away, not for a long time, which is kind of like being away from home or from someone you really miss. But if it’s your idea and all about you and what you want to do, it can simmer for a long time on the back burner, I’ve realized. For years, even. Thanks for the honesty!

  11. Leslie says:

    Hi everyone, great conversation! I think changing the medium often helps to further develop an idea. If you’ve been writing about a topic, drawing it might lead you in a new direction.

    I’ve just completed a semester-long class on creativity and innovation at the best university here in Chile.

    (Sidenote: Chile is land of the specialists. The first question people ask is “What are you?” And the expected answers for this are architect, civil engineer, journalist, publicist, etc. But this class was full of rebels who want to shake things up!)

    For our class project, my group investigated the needs of global citizens, specifically Chileans who want to do a masters’ degree abroad. We interviewed lots of people and did various tests, but we didn’t have a solution in mind. Then our visual thinking professor encouraged us to sketch the idea in a spiral trail format, and from that format my classmates thought of a notebook that they loved as little girls. We then started to focus our attention on how we could bring together our findings about global citizens with the notebook format. We ended up coming up with an online/offline hybrid that we might go ahead and produce!

    So yes, switching up the medium can help develop the idea.


    • Joshua says:

      Leslie – Thanks for reading and commenting! That’s funny what you said about Chileans, I live in Japan and it is kind of the same thing.

      In Japanese culture, you choose one thing and “ganbaru” (work hard) at it, take the lumps as they come, and that’s where your pride and spirit is supposed to come from.

      I am sure alot of people who are multipods are forced to suppress that part of themselves by deciding on one thing. My boss, who’s a young guy and somewhat unconventional himself, also has this speech about “find what you want to do. become what you are.” Which was inspiring to hear in a way, but problematic for me before.

      That said, I’ve met alot of multi-talented people here in Japan, but the notion of multipotentiality must just mean “person with several hobbies,” because even though they have a commonly known word for it (?? tann?), it’s not something I’ve heard anyone identify themselves as. But my father-in-law is like “Oh yeah, that means a person with a bunch of different skills. That’s a good thing!”

      So that sounds good that you have a class of rebels there with you, shaking things up. I’ve noticed alot of co-working spaces have popped up recently in Tokyo, so I think my generation is starting to catch on to the notions of unconventional lifestyles, self-sufficiency and disruptive innovation bit by bit. It’d be cool to start something like what Emilie has started here in Japan!

  12. Nadia says:

    This is great! I would like to add that I think this concept applies to more areas too, beyond art. For example, if a person wants to help people achieve good health / heal the sick, there are a multitude of ways to do this, not just the traditional path of medicine. In terms of mental health, one can contribute positively without being a psychologist, and so on. So as you said, it’s about the idea that you care about, not the medium. We tend to fall into the trap of thinking that the only way to make a particular contribution is by learning a particular trade. So not true! And thank God for that! :)

    • Joshua says:

      Nadia – Wow, thanks for bringing this idea more depth, and nicely written, too.

      “We tend to fall into the trap of thinking that the only way to make a particular contribution is by learning a particular trade. ”

      I think you’re right, it’s great that there are those of us who realize that we can do things and contribute positively without worrying about medium or titles.

      And maybe the urge to help people and contribute to their healing shouldn’t always necessitate a title. I think the traditional role of a title, other than proving one’s knowledge of the skills involved, was meant to prove the purity of a person’s intentions.

      But if there are other ways to prove intentions, then those of us who feel we have a knack for something ought to be able to do it.

      It really is a freeing thing, and especially empowering to people who often hesitate when they approach a medium, when all they want to do is have their idea become a reality.

      And we are all amateurs or beginners in one area or another, and there are even areas we are super experienced in that we ourselves don’t even see sometimes, just because nobody has ‘given’ us the title.

  13. Tilly says:

    I was thinking along the same lines as Nadia… the blank and the blank are more way wide open than an artistic idea and a medium. One can apply this to ALL areas of their life.

    • Joshua says:

      Tily, thanks for chiming in! So I’m gonna try to sum up my impression of what you’re saying, tell me if I’m wrong:

      Basically, on a very fundamental yet kinda abstract level, if someone has certain strong qualities / a desire / a natural inclination to do something, they should not let their lack of credentials/experience/proof be a barrier to using their inborn skills/talents/desires?

      I certainly like this idea!

  14. Thomas says:

    Good discussion!

    I regularly make comic books, films, animations, poems, prose, paintings, puppet shows, plays, radio shows and toys… So this discussion has certainly got a lot to say to me!

    I’ve been working with “ideas first, form later” as my baseline since high school.  I have noticed more nuances to it too though:

    I’ve come to realize something similar to what Nadia said about finding many ways to be a “healer” without being just a “doctor.” I believe it’s important for us (multipotentialites, but humans in general, also – i think everybody’s secretly one of us anyhow) to think about all the acts that we feel are important and strip away the particulars of them and come to see the core value or principle at their core – healing, sharing, empowerment, discovery and love, for example, are principles that give my life meaning, and I feel that I do what I do because I’m interested in serving and expressing my values in all the possible ways.

    In a somewhat contradictory-sounding (but not) way, another thing I’ve noticed is that whenever I  make an artwork that I think really succeeded, it will be the kind of thing that could not have worked in any other medium.  My best comics can only work as comics because the format of the book plays into the narrative.  My best movies can only work as movies because of editing tricks that I employ.  My best writing can only work as writing because of wordplay and form.  The best plays I’ve ever seen only work as plays because of how they use the stage and use the audience.  It’s why my paintings look nothing like my prints which look nothing like my sculptures.
    At Emilie, I’d like to say that this is what Marshal McLuhan means when he says “the medium is the message” – he’s merely saying that some media can do things that others can’t, and the strengths and weaknesses of the medium permanently color the character of the message, which is why we must choose our media wisely, instead of arbitrarily.  McLuhan and you agree!  Because there’s nothing more arbitrary than committing to one medium forever for no reason.  “The medium is the message” is very much like what Sheila said, “each form reveals a new view”

    I am always trying to strike a balance between beginning with an idea vs beginning with a formal consideration.  I get the feeling that in order to create, you need one fixed thing to start with –kind of like the way you can grow a crystal using a hyper-saturated liquid solution, but only if you drop a stone or something inside to act as a catalyst.  Limits are needed to inform how the infinite possibilities take shape.  Totally open-ended scenarios are scary and make us blocked just as badly as boring, overly limited scenarios.

    So when we begin, what do we choose as our fixed point?  Do we fix an element of form – as in the classic improv game where every line you say has to begin with a certain letter of the alphabet – so our ideas can run wild?  Or do we commit to an idea or theme, so that the tools we use to express it can run wild?

    What if both sound like fun?  Maybe we try one project one way, then another project the other.
    Or maybe a synthesis of both strategies exists: where we do a bit of improv alchemy, engineering forms to fit the ideas and engineering ideas to fit the forms in a back-and-forth give-and-take way as we go along.

    When it comes to art, what matters most is getting into the water and splashing around.  Ultimately I don’t believe that the mediums are separate, they’re all just different ways of playing in the pool.

    Meanwhile, like David, I think committing to a form for a while is good, when it’s about practicing and getting better.  That’s why we really commit, I think: so that we can master stuff.  When people make the transition from “I’m doing a lot of painting because I like it and want to do more and better paintings” to “I am a painter, painting is THE thing I do!” I think they’ve had a serious misunderstanding with themselves.  I don’t think we can set out to “be” the “things” we “will be.”. I think that the people we naturally are choose to do some things a certain way, and at the end of a long journey we wake up and realize that we now “have been” something.  How can you define a life until it’s complete?

    Anyway thanks guys!  My first time posting here on puttylike.  I hope you all keep thinking great thoughts!

    • Joshua says:

      Thomas – What a first posting! Looks like you’ll have alot to add to the Puttylike community. I liked this part: “another thing I’ve noticed is that whenever I make an artwork that I think really succeeded, it will be the kind of thing that could not have worked in any other medium.”

      I’m not sure how well I said this in the article, but I certainly believe that it’s about not getting attached to any one medium, in order to reach the idea’s best possible expression.

      And I think above you also mentioned starting with a medium, which is a good idea, even if it’s an arbitrary choice or the medium is discarded. Alot of interesting thoughts there in yr comments, keep it up!

  15. Andrea says:

    I once had an idea that started with a little jingle that ran through my head one day, and then went through several phases until finally I learned to paint illuminated manuscripts in order to express it. Lately I’ve been finding myself stuck with thoughts like, “I want to write a book. A book about….something…,” so this thread was a nice reminder of that process. Thank you.

    • Joshua says:

      Andrea – You’re welcome, and thanks for commenting! Glad we could help. That’s great that your idea ended up somewhere totally different from the starting point. I meant for this article to inspire new ways of thinking or put into words an experience many of us have had.

      And not to discredit the validity of mediums, because sometimes the desire “I want to ____ a ____ ” is enough to get us pretty far into and idea, y’know? Just so long as we’re willing to cast off one medium for another from time to time.

  16. Clarice says:

    Thank you for the great article and discussions! I read this article at a perfect time, as I was just thinking last night about how when I was little, I always wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. I haven’t drawn in a long time, and now tend to write more when I want to express myself, but this was a great reminder to be open to all kinds of mediums. So following my childhood dream might be something that I pursue this next year, along with all of my other writing projects.
    Thanks, Emilie, for such a great website!

  17. Joshua says:

    Clarice – You’re welcome, and yes, Emilie has a great website here. Everyone’s so cool. I think it’s a common multipotentialite moment when a dormant interest comes back to us, and sometimes it takes just picking up the pencil & sketchpad again, and suddenly within a few tries you get that power back. Following a childhood dream is a good new year’s resolution, for sure. ;-)

  18. Kendal says:

    Hmm. I like that way of looking at things. I think I’ve been doing some of that without even really thinking about it. I’m interested in all sorts of mediums, and when I have an idea, I kind of sort it into the medium I think expresses it best. I kind of wish I could do it all in just one medium, because I have way too many things going on that I want to accomplish! lol

    • Josh says:


      Something I have found as a suitable home for what I do is a podcast. I like to write and sometimes it’s comedy stuff, other times it’s music. My friend is good at voice acting, so we record little scenes with our mics and add sounds, music, etc.

      Audio for me is a super economical way to get ideas out, and I love the theater of the mind aspect.

      You can use GarageBand and create any number of effects, essentially creating little scenes in people’s heads, without having to scout locations, get actors or be bummed that you can’t get an awesome crane shot to end your film because it’s impossibly expensive. You can go to and download a tropical rainforest and suddenly you don’t have to fly to one (extreme example).

      Filmmaking is becoming cheaper, though. For me, if I get an idea for a screenplay, I might record it as an audio thing first and see after that if I feel satiated enough, or if the story really needs to be visual.

      Also, podcasts can host video, so it’s good if you want a mixture of audio and short video pieces.

      Thanks for the comment!

  19. cami says:

    Hi Josh! This is a very interesting post. I sometimes feel that looking on the internet for answers how to express all the images in my head out into life feels like I’m desperate. But I’m glad I read this. I want my voice to be heard but sometimes feel any medium isn’t enough to expeess it. will try your suggestion thanks!

  20. Josh says:

    Thanks for stumbling onto my post here and commenting. I would definitely recommend keeping your mind open to all and any mediums. I would also recommend you start with one, just to get going.

    What is your project? Is it entirely visual?

    Feel free to ask for any suggestions on here, the Puttylike community is pretty supportive!

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