How I Developed the Character In My Thumbnails


Do you hate how hard it is to get a good picture of yourself? There’s a reason photographers still have jobs, even though all of us have our own cameras now.

For nearly every person, if you want to look effortlessly attractive, it will take a great deal of effort.

Even celebrities sweat over which gown to wear to the Met Gala.

Our appearance takes effort.

I’m absolutely on the side that we put too much emphasis on appearance, because a person’s mind is what is most likely to change our world for the better. But because we’re all so busy, it’s not confusing to me that none of us find the time to give every random stranger the same chance to impact our lives.

Semiotics is the study of iconography, and in one of his books Seth Godin urges you to consider the concept that a stranger does not use the part of their brain that thinks of you as a person, but rather that a stranger is trying to quickly equate you with something they already know, and reduce you to nothing more interesting than an emoji.

It’s for this reason that action movies have a certain look to their cover. It’s why vampire romance novels use a certain color palette.

Indie movies and books often skip this stage of research, and leave much more interpretation up to the end-user, and that’s why if someone likes something indie, they have to work so hard to get you to give it a try; the indie isn’t related to something you can identify and instead of getting to classify it quickly and decide if you care about that category of book, movie, game, song, whatever it is- you instead have to turn on the slow and painful process of giving some random new thing an honest chance, without any preconception of if it has a chance of working out for you or not.

We sometimes go through this experience, because we care about our friends and want to understand them through what they like. But it would be kinder of the indie, to put less burden on our friends, by helping to narrow down the possibilities of the new and experimental whatsit, so that we can make an educated guess about whether we care about something new or not.

People are going to classify you.

But, if you work on your appearance, you get the chance to call shotgun on what that classification may be.


The character I use to communicate to the world, followed along the same development path as a book cover, by which I hope to be more accurately judged into the category I can deliver on, instead of setting up expectations that I cannot hope to meet.

I had seen many different video makers, and comic artists, using a cartoon version of themselves to present their topic to their audience.

I’ve been trying to build my own character to present to the world for more than a decade at this point.

Designing the character to represent me, was no small task.

Would I be human?

Would I be serious?

Would I reflect my actual waistline? (I opted out of this one, in hopes that my avatar can serve as an aspiration for myself…)

I’d seen characters that were animals, I’d seen characters who were smiley faces, I’d seen characters that fully animated.

Some of them were humanoid, but new inventions, like how a muppet looks like a person and also a something not-a-person.

I had to balance out what kind of mood I’d most likely be in; the character couldn’t be too happy-manic, or I’d have to be happy-manic when I wrote.

I had to keep the character simple enough that it didn’t pull focus, or people would groan when the character came around due to it being a bumbling pile of “pieces of flair.”

I wanted it to feel like one of my characters, but it also had to feel like the character who creates all the other characters by extension.

I sketched outfits. I studied cartoon faces that looked like my own face.

According to my archive, I apparently was going to be a dragon at one point.

The idea that got the farthest however, was that “Noah Wizard” should be a goblin of some vaguely wizard/tinkerer profession.

There are more prototypes of this than I remember.

My brain only stored the last image that had a nearly culinary theme. I like the idea of my character could have been a sort of wizardly goblin head chef.

Alongside the creation of this character, was also the formation of the stage name Noah Wizard itself, which I’ve written about before. But if you’re hearing it for the first time now, I needed something that combined seriousness with whimsy, because semiotically I need people to classify me in the same category as a mad genius because that’s the only kind of content I can reliably produce. My content is not polished, but it is zany and trying to chart us some path forward through the wilderness.

So a chef Noah could have worked out; I put a lot of different ingredients together in hopes that some of them will gel into an experience greater than the sum of their parts.


At this point, I don’t remember if I was trying to evoke a character that would trigger people’s minds to think of something inspired by but legally different than a Minecraft character, or if I was just trying to make the character appear more solid.

The pandemic happened around the finalization of the Noah Wizard voxel character, and some of those years swirl.

I remember thinking I needed something more substantial. I remember visualizing that if I could make a voxel version of the avatar, I could convey a character who you enjoyed seeing week by week, for its stability. Made-out-of-blocks was appealing thematically to me. And again, as this character finalized during the pandemic, I can understand at least the want for stability that I was reaching for with this character, even if I cannot remember the fine details of how and why we got here.


Naomi Dunford from IttyBiz taught me a great deal of the smart things I know about how to run a business, but one of the key components she clarified for me is that good marketing is not just about attracting the right customers, it’s also about making your business unappealing to the people who are not actually your customers but show up in droves anyway.

Her example was that the CEO of Starbucks should not be making their decisions based on the pack of high schoolers who show up to the coffee house every day and share one vanilla latte betwixt them, but rather the professional who picks up, in addition to their coffee, a few bags of grounds and a holiday mix CD. 

I’m one of the most difficult people I know.

I’m not wanton about it, and I take no pleasure in upsetting and displacing other people; in fact I take pain when it happens badly that I have butted heads with someone and I’m forcing them out of their comfortable zone.

For that reason, if I have a happy and approachable looking avatar, it’s more likely that I’ll attract people who enjoy the humor and levity and intelligent part of my work, but not the “Now let’s build our house slowly and painstakingly out of brick,” part.

I’m a fitness instructor of the mind. The kind of fitness instructor who you hate because they don’t just keep you accountable, they believe you actually can do this and tell you so every time you meet.

That’s a pain in the ass to somebody who just wanted to hear some intelligent snark from a goblin wizard chef.

And it wasn’t just that I needed to change my look to be more studious and in-the-thick-of-things.

I also, really probably can’t be green.


I don’t have the permission to reprint any of the infographics I’ve studied on this topic, but give yourself a treat and ruin icons for companies for the rest of your life, by doing a search for “company logos by color.”

One of the first things that will become apparent is how often a logo is associated with a single color.

Part of the reason I was going with a goblin was because it would allow me to focus the Noah character into that singular color green, and keep things from getting too full of detail and distracting.

I wanted something sleek like so many corporations have.

But once I started to understand the prevalence of people who come into my life for the fun-guy parts of my personality, and hate the face-the-change aspects of my personality, I knew in my heart I could not pick a fun color.

After surveying my choices, the only responsible option routinely turned out to be blue.

Blue is the color of LinkedIn.

Blue is the color of a Google Doc.



It came together when I could visualize that I should lean into one small aspect of the Noah/Noah’s Ark aspect of the stage name I took. The reason I took the name was because I believe in the principle I learned in Harvey Mackay’s book, “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.” Similarly, I felt that if you’re going to build yourself a liferaft, you’ll have to give up a lot of sunny days putting in work toward a future you can’t quite imagine yet, and I wanted that spirit to be somewhere in the character.

I could visualize a character with his sleeves rolled up.

Pencil behind his ear.

Suspenders that acted half as classiness and half to mimic the straps of overalls that I had prototyped in some of the earlier designs.

But most of all, I wanted the Noah Wizard desk to not be a desk, but planks of wood strewn across two sawhorses, like I must have seen in tv or movies somewhere. A temporary desk for the contractor to roll out blueprints and see what he was making.

Once I had rights to a pack of artwork that contained parts of buildings under construction, I knew I just had to stage the scene.


There’s a Kelsey Grammer tv show where he plays the mayor of Chicago, it’s called Boss. I did not watch very far; I like stories where people do nice things for each other, and in this show Kelsey Grammer rips a guy’s ears off.

And within that same tone, when his computer throws an error code at him, in a different scene, the camera zooms in on him, ominously -you might only be able to see his eyes over the screen- and he tersely reads out the error.

“Admin failure, java select.”

To which he amends, in the tone of a man who will rip a guy’s ears off, “The fucking people who make this shit.”

I owned the Noah Wizard sawhorse/unfinished building set for something like a year before I managed to get a print of the character out.

It’s something very stupid.

If you’ve used any software for your work, then you probably know that eventually you learn to tune out all of the dials and knobs and checkboxes and dropdown menus and updates that do not pertain to you.

You know how to swoop in, hit the button you need, and you get the hell out of there.

Because software sucks.

It’s just fucking terrible.

It took me doing an entire other project with something like 40+ videos and game sets before I was able to confidently set up the sky in the background of the Noah Wizard set.

It seems like a small thing, but I needed that blue to cascade through the image so that people will associate me with something studious and boring and the freeloaders will skip clicking on me.

I probably could have gone without it.

We’re here now though.

And as the thumbnails fill up as I populate the site with content, the blue is looking mighty fine.

And boring.

And fine.

The above post was an entry for Paul Scrivens’ 30 Day Prompt Challenge.

Prompt: Which color best represents you?

Note: Not skin color. Colors like a crayon box.