I've just joined WordPress.com as a LiveJournal escapee, and boy am I happier here! If any of you have previously used LiveJournal, you know what a crazy mess "s2" can be when it comes to trying to make look-and-feel customizations to a blog/journal. One my favorite things about WordPress is not only that it uses real web standards like CSS (as opposed to a made up system which invents a new tag language and redefines words like "layer" and "style") but that any user of WordPress.com is free to also grab code from WordPress.org and set up a local development environment to experiment with.
While setting up such a development environment, and starting to experiment with customizing my new WordPress.com blog (right now it just looks exactly like my old LJ did, for starters) I have come across a couple theme-related questions that I imagine many of you have good answers for. I've done some searching and found related threads, but not much on these specific topics...
1) For those of you who prefer to start with as little implied design as possible (entirely relying on Custom CSS to shape your blog's appearance) which WordPress.com theme do you prefer and why? Toolbox and Sandbox both look great to me, but I'm not really sure what the key differentiators are (so far I've been experimenting with Toolbox just because it happened to be newer, but that's a pretty lame criteria).
2) I'm aware that for each theme on WordPress.com, even basic ones like Toolbox and Sandbox, certain modifications have to be made from the "raw" versions available for WordPress.org installs, to optimize them for use in a shared blogging environment. I'm curious, is there any way to download the WordPress.com "versions" (for lack of a better term) of themes for use on a local install, for development purposes? If so, how would one do that? If not, is there a practical reason why this couldn't be implemented? Obviously I'm only talking about free themes here, not Premium ones.
3) For those of you who use Toolbox, Sandbox, or a similar theme to create entirely CSS-based "subthemes" of your own, what are some of your favorite online resources? I've found a small handful of posts, blogs, and sites that have some helpful information but I'd love to make a canonical bookmark list for myself as I dive deeper into learning how these things work. I'd especially like to know if there are other forums on which folks using these themes in this way hang out, where more specific questions and answers might reside for me to read up on.
4) I've seen occasional mention in a couple places, during my searches, of "contests" for CSS creations utilizing Toolbox or Sandbox. Does anyone have some links to prior competitions or experiments using these themes? I'd ove to check out others' work to see what people have done with them (especially if their designs include elements I'm interested in trying to implement myself).
5) Finally, for those more intimately familiar with the nitty gritty differences between WordPress.com themes and themes available for local WordPress installs, what would you say are some of the most common pitfalls, misconceptions, or "gotchas" that newbies might come across when experimenting with theme CSS on one with the intention of actually using it on the other? Are there any online resources on this topic that you recommend checking out?
THANKS in advance to folks willing to read through all this, and who might take the time to reply. I really appreciate your feedback, and I hope this thread might grow and become useful to others in the future (especially those who might just have joined WordPress.com with some CSS background and a lot of enthusiasm).