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Grand Forks designer has board game

Graphic designer Todd Bratrud sits in his Grand Forks studio on Thursday, Oct. 4. Photo by Bonnie Meibers/Grand Forks Herald1 / 4
A skateboard design by Todd Bratrud. Photo by Bonnie Meibers/Grand Forks Herald2 / 4
Todd Bratrud holds his print of Smiley the water tower inside his studio. Photo by Bonnie Meibers/Grand Forks Herald3 / 4
Todd Bratrud's Smiley water tower print. Photo by Bonnie Meibers/Grand Forks Herald4 / 4

Huddled in his chilly Grand Forks studio late at night with his cat Fritz, it's hard for Todd Bratrud to imagine having this kind of space back in sunny California.

The walls are covered floor to ceiling in art, most of it his. Brightly colored skateboards, paintings, posters.

"I couldn't have this art in California," he said. "I had it, but it was all in storage because I couldn't afford a place to have it out where I could look at it."

Bratrud is a graphic designer. He works mainly with skate art and tennis shoes but has designed T-shirts, magazine covers, posters and more.

The 42 year-old was born in Crookston, and lived in Santa Cruz and Costa Mesa in California for 12 years before moving back to the Midwest. He came back to help his younger brother take care of his first child and has been in Grand Forks for nine years.

"I was an off-and-on nanny, doing my art at night," Bratrud said.

His nephews are now 11 and 5 years old, and he's moved out of his brother's basement and into an apartment with his girlfriend, Ilana Lebowitz.

"I love it here," he said. "I never wanted to leave, but I got a job doing art for skateboards, and that job hardly even exists. So if you get it, you have to do whatever you have to do to make it work. I just instantly picked up and took off."

Bratrud mainly designs skateboards. He has designed skateboards for Tony Hawk and his brand.

He frequently creates shoe designs for Nike and is currently working one to be released next year. His latest was a "white widow spider," featured on Nike's SB Dunk Mid shoe.

And he is "always" working on art for his own brand, Send Help.

He settled on the name "Send Help," after finding out that the original name, "The High Five" already was trademarked.

"I've just always liked the way (Send Help) sounded," Bratrud said. "Most of my team is from the Midwest, a bunch of guys who wouldn't normally have this opportunity. So it's kind of a tip to being secluded out here in the middle of nowhere, calling for help."

Steeped in skateboards

There have been some struggles to moving so far away from the skateboard scene in California.

"I didn't really think about it at first, but it was a risk to move out here," Bratrud said.

It is more difficult to network and stay fresh in clients' minds, he said. The internet and social media make that a little easier, though.

"Social media is fun, but it becomes a thing you have to stay on to keep your name out there, it becomes a chore," Bratrud said.

Being out here is also an advantage. Bratrud can work in distraction-free solitude in his studio here.

He also stands out as being a guy "out in the middle of nowhere" doing the work he does.

Bratrud's art is inspired by things in his everyday life.

The old Smiley water tower is a popular design of his that pays tribute to the tower that stood next to DeMers Avenue in Grand Forks until 2009.

"Skaters would use it as a meeting point," Bratrud said.

A dollar from each Smiley water tower skateboard sold goes toward the recently opened skate park in Grand Forks.

Bratrud has been "super involved" with getting the skate park up and running since he got to Grand Forks. The new skate park opened in mid-September.

"It's nice to not have to search for a secluded parking lot to skate for an hour," Bratrud said. "I'm an adult, I don't want to get in trouble for skating on someone's property. It's also nice to have a meeting point again."

It's given neighborhood kids something to do, he said.

"You can tell the kinds of kids that gravitate toward it are the kind who really need it, need something to fill their afternoons and evenings," Bratrud said.

Bratrud and Lebowitz met at a skatepark in Santa Cruz, and Lebowitz made the move to Grand Forks two years ago.

About that time, they found their cat Fritz. He was abandoned outside and they took him in.

Fritz is an indoor-outdoor cat. He'll disappear for days at a time, Bratrud said, but he always comes back.

Bratrud said the Midwest will always be his home. Like his cat, even if he leaves, Bratrud always comes back.