Illustration by Gatis Šulcs

At the end of last year, Latvian national guard and mountaineer Juris Alberts Ulmanis published his book When War Becomes Personal, a collection of 26 stories about his experiences while delivering equipment and helping Ukrainian soldiers. The message of each story is enhanced by the expressive illustrations of creative director and artist Gatis Šulcs. He is also the designer of the book, with its rough and laconic design echoing the harsh realities of war.

Stories Editorial February 13, 2024

Gatis Šulcs says that the work on illustrating the stories started by chance. Juris Alberts Ulmanis visited the Art Academy of Latvia and told about his experience in Ukraine in connection with another project. He mentioned that he published stories about his experiences in Ukraine on his Facebook account and suggested that the students illustrate them. Encouraged by his lecturer Rūta Briede, Gatis illustrated the first story and shortly afterwards received an offer to make drawings for a book.


Gatis points out that the main purpose of illustrations is to enhance the emotional message of the publication. The narrative of the drawings is the artist’s free interpretation of the stories; sometimes the illustrations are inspired by photographs taken by Juris, sometimes the drawings are based on the emotions created by the story, or they relate to the story in a more abstract way. The drawings are made in a rough manner, with broad brushstrokes, not bothering with fine details and embellishments — «like carved a hatchet,» describes Gatis. The chosen colour palette relates to traditional military tones, which are complemented with some bright accents.

The design of the book is also done without unnecessary details. «Juris is a simple and rough (not to be confused with rude) man. He climbs Everest, sleeps in a tent in the winter cold, and goes to the front to help the Ukrainians. Juris is a national guard and a Latvian patriot. I also wanted to make the design of the book as simple and genuine as possible,» says Gatis. Exposed binding is used for the book, which is printed on unbleached paper and has simple cardboard covers. Responding to the content of the book, Gatis wanted to make it small, like a pocket-sized diary. The designer was also inspired by the songbooks of Latvian soldiers during the first independence of Latvia.


When War Becomes Personal is published in Latvian and Ukrainian. It is available on the website of the publishing house Jānis Roze.