Todd Bratrud’s been at it for decades.
His run of boards for Paisley—Sean Cliver’s recently-formed opus—sold out instantly, and it’s no surprise.It is a rendering of Prince’s finest moment in Purple Rain: howling, convulsing on the stage in amorous rapture to the point that his girl runs out of the club crying, then storming off stage like a psychopath and destroying the green room in a Princeian tantrum. The graphic is a clear extension of its artist—like Prince, Bratrud is a sick, twisted, artistic genius from Minnesota, raised in the small town of Crookston.
When he’s not lending his skills to brands such as Paisley, Zero, Creature, Nike, and Chocolate (to name a few) Bratrud is either collaborating with Familia Skate Shop in Minneapolis or in the lab working on his own brand, Send Help. Having left the Midwest only twelve-year stint in SoCal, where he ran the art department at Consolidated in the early to mid-2000s, Bratrud’s back in the American High Plains. I caught up with him a couple months ago, and I’ll be the first to tell you, that dude is skateboarding personified. He wakes up in the morning and pisses skateboarding. His art is completely derived from skating—it might be strange, it might be gross, but whether you get it or not, there’s no denying that the shit fucking rules.
Did you get into drawing and art through skating?
I liked drawing as a kid, but I wasn’t super good at it or anything. It really clicked once I found skateboarding and started looking at Thrasher. It’s weird because I’ve got no attraction to art outside of skateboarding.
What were some of your inspirations?
Oddly enough, the packaging for GI Joe figures and like, pinball machines—there’s a line work to those, the colours, how bold things are. I didn’t go to school for art, the places that I drew inspiration from were real things. With that said, once I found skateboard art, that sparked me to draw more. I called back to all these things that I really did like and paid a ton of attention to as a kid. And then mash that up with Pushead, Cliver, McKee, all those dudes…it all just made sense.
Tell me about your gig with Nabisco.
That was the design firm that Nabisco used primarily, but they also did stuff for General Mills, Coca-Cola, all kinds of crazy shit. I hung out with Clint Peterson, Emeric Pratt, [Steve] Nesser, Seth McCallen, and we just skated all day and all night, that’s all we did. Then I got this crazy job at this design firm, and I was just this scummy, weird skater dude there, but they were into it. They kind of dug it. I knew literally nothing at that point, I just knew I liked to draw and paint. They hired me and said, for the first four months, just sit at your desk and play with PhotoShop and Illustrator, ask questions to any of the designers here. So that job alone was rad for the weird on-the-job training I got. I did that for two years and along those two years was when I started doing stuff for Roots [Skateboards] and Fobia Skateshop. I learned how to actually do stuff—I could do the work, turn it in, work with the printers, all that shit. At that time, that was the hardest stuff to learn. After a couple years I just split, and that’s when things started clicking as far as actually getting real jobs doing real stuff.
Are you involved at all with what’s going on over at Paisley?
Yeah, I’ve got a graphic coming out in March for them. It’s pretty cool—I would rarely say that about my own stuff. They fully challenged me to make the best thing I’ve made all year and I definitely accepted that challenge. It’s got a cool shape—it’s an early-‘90s kind of football shape. I gotta say, out of my stuff, this is one of the things that I’m definitely more proud of. Sean[ Cliver]’s had a vision forever dude, he’s been talking about this for almost as long as I’ve known him. The heavy-hitters that those dudes have lined up to do this, the people that they can easily access…it’s pretty crazy. It just makes it easy to do something really cool.
How do you think being a skateboard artist has changed?
Back in the early 90s, brands had their artists. Powell had Stecyk, World had Cliver and McKee, Santa Cruz had Phillips, that was a thing. And that’s not a thing anymore. Guys back then probably got paid nice, you know? They had an actual job. But now it’s a ton of people like me who are just freelance who are battling for these jobs, battling to get paid this or that. When I started doing it, there were only a couple dudes who were kind of my age, but none of them knew anything either. It was kind of hard to talk to dudes like “how do we charge, what’s up, how does this work, how does that work.” No one really knew, because it was a new thing, that there were these outside-of-staff people doing art for brands. Nowadays, you could talk to a million people about how to best approach it and do it.
Do you still make stuff that’s like, I don’t even know if this is gonna go through?
The one that I can think of is that six board series that I just did for Zero that’s a bunch of severed body parts. I kept submitting a severed dick, just pushing for it as if it was going to happen. I don’t know who would pick that up and want it, but it fit with the whole series, it made sense. A hand, a foot, a nose, a boob—why not? But you know for a fact that there are so few kids who would look at that and think it’s cool. I’ve been pretty fortunate. I worked with Enjoi for a long time. They were awesome. You could do almost anything with them. Creature is pretty insane to work with, you can do anything there. Zero—that girl with the severed head eating herself out, I didn’t get any shit for that. None. I think I must have gotten over 100 super positive comments on it. No negative. People super-dug it.
Because its smart, it’s clever, there’s a play on words, and I think that goes for a lot of the imagery you put out.
You hope that people get that. It’s a play on words but it’s an illustrated play on words. So there’s one more level to it essentially getting missed or confused…people thinking it’s this crude image for the sake of being a crude image, but most of it isn’t. Most of the stuff I do has at least a vague reason behind doing it. The more fucked up it is, also the more fun it is, to try and twist it into something that people might end up liking. Like that Zero graphic, it was fun to work on that. You might hate this but hopefully at least you’ll appreciate it.