Ok... first step, picking what I wanted to make in my relief sculpture and how I was going to accomplish it.
I decided to go with a hand. I'll explain my reasoning behind this in the artist statement, but for now I'd like to talk about the process of getting the image to represent the 6 levels of height for the cotton swabs.
I used Photoshop to convert the image from color to grayscale, reduce the image to 45x37 pixels and finally output the image with only 6 values. From here it's fairly obvious to see what I am up to. Each pixel represents a single cotton swab and each of the 6 grayscale values represents a height value.
The next step was to separate each grayscale value into an individual layer to create the "map" that I'd follow when placing the cotton swabs on the foam core grid, which is exactly what is next on the list to create... better get moving.