Before I get to far into further customizations how about a gallery of my progress so far.
For the i3lock screen I started with a tutorial posted at http://plankenau.com/blog/post/gaussianlock followed by a little additional research to adjust the brightness levels at http://www.imagemagick.org/Usage/color_mods/#level_gamma which contains several tips and tricks for use with ImageMagick. If you’re curious my final lock config is listed below.
convert /tmp/screenshot.png -blur 0x7 -level 0%,100%,0.5 /tmp/screenshotblur.png
i3lock -i /tmp/screenshotblur.png