Northern Exposure

Sam McGuire

Skateboard artist Todd Bratrud's got a long and storied history in the industry -- some of which are etched into his skin.

Todd Bratrud is a Minnesota native and North Dakota resident. Seems like an odd existence for one of skateboarding's foremost illustrators, considering the industry's predilection for big cities on the coasts. However, his art is some of the most revered in skateboard history, and his sense of humor often shines through in his work. Bratrud has worked with everyone from Consolidated Skateboards to Nike and is now co-owner of Send Help Skateboards with longtime friend and professional skateboarder Steve Nesser.

We caught up with Bratrud at his home to find out what drives him to create and what it's like being a skateboard industry professional in the Roughrider State. first got you interested in skateboarding?
Todd Bratrud: I was laid up with a broken leg and my younger brother ended up getting a skateboard. I watched him skate around in front of the house for a summer, and as soon as the weather and my leg came around I got the hand-me-down board and that was that.

Artist's Portfolio -- Todd Bratrud

Did your art and skateboarding immediately blend into one another, or was it a gradual process?
It was pretty instantaneous. I always had an interest in art, but really got inspired when I first started noticing skateboard graphics.

Being from Minnesota, was art a way to stay sane during the winter? How did you get your skate fix?
Art was just a constant; I was always drawing or painting or making something. I guess in the winter there was just more time to get into some art projects, although we did find places to skate: basements, trips to indoor parks, shoveling snow.

What initially got your foot in the door in the skateboard industry? What was your first creative job?
Fobia Skateboard Shop in Minneapolis. In the shop's early years I was part of the shop team; as time went on I just kind of ended up making a shirt or two, and some stickers. Eventually I handled all things art-related that had to do with the shop.

What were the Consolidated days like?
Really fun! It was a strange combo of all these dudes like A.P. [Alan Petersen], Karma [Tsocheff], Scott Bourne, Ryan Wilburn, the Paez brothers and Jason Jessee. And then a bunch of my friends from Minneapolis ended up getting on the team or getting boards, so it was like this almost surreal combo at times. And the art side of things was pretty much a free-for-all as far as how I got to go about what I did there. I learned a ton.

Was there a lot of freedom working for a smaller company?
Oh yeah. I mean, there [were] like three or four people that would need to see what I was working on, ever. Meaning I didn't have to go through a chain of people approving things and making changes, and checking with people to see if a graphic was OK to run with. Not that there isn't the same freedom with the larger brands -- just a different pace.

You've done some work for Nike; was there any hesitation due to Consolidated's -- and skateboarding in general's -- anti-big-company stance?
No. At the time there were two pros on Consolidated that had longstanding relationships with Nike. There was for sure drama before I was working at Consolidated, but from what I understood that was all kind of in the past and it was not so much about what was good and bad, but [about] being educated so as a consumer you could make a choice.

I used to think the idea of a big art show was really cool, but then I had a few and I guess it's just too much for me.
Todd Bratrud

If I had felt like it was a big deal, I would have never done anything with Nike. With Consolidated I saw myself being there forever, to be honest, or being involved somehow.

How did Send Help start? Who's involved?
Send Help is myself, Steve Nesser, Randy Ploesser, Marty Murawski, [Scott] Horsey [Walker], Steve Fauser, Brian Heck, Preston Harper, Justin Modica, Ryan Sublette and Jackson Casey. The motivation was nothing more than myself and Brian Heck talking about how we might do things if we had a brand; I think it was less than 24 hours from starting talking to deciding that we needed to do something. I have always wanted to do a board brand; so many ideas I have don't really fit in anywhere else. It's a home for misfit skaters and their ideas.

It started out as HIGH 5; what happened with the original name?
Send Help was kind of born out of circumstance; the HIGH 5 was where it started. There were some problems from the start with the HIGH 5 in that the trademark process was messed up; as far as myself and the team knew, things were good, but it turned out that there was some serious drama happening, and that ended up being something that could not be resolved.

Are you the only skateboard industry dude in North Dakota?
No way! Oddly enough there is a handful of cool skate-related things happening out here. This [Skate and Snow] in Fargo is seriously an awesome shop, Kemmco Cruisers and a grip of smaller things here and there.

What are you currently working on?
At the moment I am in the middle of a semi-large book-related project with Scott Bourne. I'm not even sure how to really talk about it; it's really raw.

Any big shows or projects coming up?
No big shows -- lots of small shows. I used to think the idea of a big art show was really cool, but then I had a few and I guess it's just too much for me. I think I can't deal well with the expectations I imagine people to have for art outside of the skateboard world. I guess look for my "shows" on a more local level. Skate-shop art shows are where it's at.

What's your favorite casserole?
I'm not even sure what one of those is.

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