I've been running workshops with people to build POV specifically, working with 11-14 year olds making the electronics, and also designing their own icons like this...
I'd say first of all get the idea of how to write a sketch which flashes LEDs, like Blink
Then move onto blinking an LED with non-blocking timing, like BlinkWithoutDelay. This will turn out to be important later on when you want to, for example, include a tilt switch to control the flashing sequence, though you don't need this to begin with.
Next, understand how bytes are made out of bits. This will be important when trying to record the pixels which make up your font in an efficient way.
In my case, for an 8-led column I use a single byte to represent each column of lights, with each bit of the byte determining whether that pixel is on or off in the specific column. I use variable size characters, so that an exclamation mark can be represented in a single byte, whereas a 'W' character is made of many columns. I therefore need to not only record the bytes in a big byte array, but keep track of which characters start at which point in the array.
You can see the data structures I use at... http://shrimping.it/shrimp/project/pov/font/fonts.h
...and how I did it at...http://stackoverflow.com/questions/12988915/how-to-extract-bitmap-data-from-ttf-bitmap-typeface-for-a-pov-display
...with more up-to-date source for font extraction and encoding at...http://shrimping.it/shrimp/project/pov/font/
There's a step-by-step build for Blink based on our @ShrimpingIt circuit - a minimal Arduino compatible which you can build in minutes on breadboard - at http://shrimping.it/workshops/madlab/pov/teacher_guide.pdf
...which leads you towards this circuit, which just has an extra 7 LEDs...http://shrimping.it/workshops/madlab/pov/pov.svg
The handout we use at...http://shrimping.it/workshops/madlab/pov/student_guide.pdf
...has some general information including a page at the back, covering the task of designing your own characters for the POV and encoding them in binary.
I know you didn't want it, but there's code at http://shrimping.it/shrimp/project/pov/shrimPov.zip
which works with the circuit at http://shrimping.it/shrimp/project/pov/pov.pdf
If you need to translate between Shrimp world and Arduino world then take a look at http://arduino.cc/en/Hacking/PinMapping