Once Upon a Time

Author Michelle Hom (Third place)

Once Upon a Time captures a young girl Nova’s first time at the ocean, but in a

future where plastic covers every inch of land. Before the oceanic visit, she had only heard about the

beach from her parents’ childhood experiences and online websites. To her disappointment, there is no

sand in sight to build sandcastles or crystal-clear water to swim in. Nova looks in the distance at the sun

setting, dreaming of a future that is plastic-free. For her, white sandy beaches and sapphire blue oceans

are only found in stories that start with “once upon a time.” While Nova can only dream of a plastic-free

future, people today can make that wish true for future generations.

My idea started with the Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter, a mirror that reflects the user’s

deepest desires. Here, Nova’s deepest desire would be a plastic-free future that is in the distance. In the

artwork, her present is black and white, while the “reflection” is a colorful sunset that symbolizes her


Using contrasting colors and tones, I capture Nova’s feeling of disappointment and sadness

through the black and white color palette. In addition, the lack of color represents the lack of life in

Nova’s future, as the world’s natural wonders have become degraded by plastic litter. Then, the colorful

sunset and ocean symbolize the hope for a better future. Plus, the innocence of her age brings about the

truth of how she did nothing wrong to deserve this bleak future, and yet she must live in that world.