Q&A WITH SEAN CLIVER & TODD BRATRUD

From September 5th to October 27th, Sean Cliver & Todd Bratrud bring their exhibition Paper to Print. Ahead of the opening party on September 5th, we sat down with them both for a Q&A. Check it out below!

Introduce yourselves.

SC: Sean Cliver. Nothing fancy… no pseudonyms, no aliases, no cute, cryptic, or otherwise indecipherable tagging moniker. Just a plain ole simple kid from the middle north of the USA.

TB: Hi my name is Todd Bratrud. 

Tell folks about your artwork. What do you love to make work about? 

SC:Well, again, nothing fancy. I started to primarily draw with a Rapidograph pen when I was 15 or so. Pen and ink illustrations mainly, although to call what I was doing then as “illustrations” would be like taking a toddler’s depiction of a house and calling it an engineer’s architectural plan. But early on I did find myself drawn to drawing things that were controversial in nature. For one, they’re a tickle to draw; and two, for whatever reason drawing things that made the general masses unhappy made me happy. I guess that’s kind of what I still do to this day, so I’m really not sure what that says about me as a human.

TB: I think the bulk of the artwork I make would fall under the 'illustration' subtitle. I like to make art with bold lines and bright color combinations, skulls, daggers, guts and gore, also pretty things. 

How did you first become interested in art through skateboarding? Who were some of your early artistic influences? 

SC: Probably from my very first footstep into a skate shop in 1986. You see, living where I was in a small central Wisconsin town, it was like crossing over into an altogether different and fantastic universe. It really was that “Big Bang” moment in my life, where it was like, “I want to do this,” which is funny because I was about as geographically undesirable to the skate industry as I could possibly be. But however unlikely my location may have been, it still felt strangely accessible versus any other form of art I’d been interested in up until that point. I’m primarily referring to comic book art, because that’s what I’d previously harbored half-ass aspirations of doing. On that note, artists like Robert Crumb, Dave Sim, Bob Burden, Steve Rude, and Dave Stevens were all influences of a sort. Honestly, though, my “style” was far too stiff for comics. I preferred doing “one-off” illustrations and that’s probably why I found the idea of skate graphics appealing.

TB: I picked up and issue of Thrasher magazine in 1989, the artwork on the pages was inspirational. PusHead, Jim Phillips, VCJ, those were the first that grabbed my eye. By the early 90s I was already obsessed with all things skateboarding. The natural art progressions had me seeking out all things Cliver and McKee from the early 90s till today. 

When did you finally go from drawing/sketching on decks to it becoming your profession and what you do?

SC:At the age of 17 my big dream in life was to draw skateboard graphics and I achieved this dream approximately a year-and-a-half later when I won an art contest for a position in the Powell-Peralta art department. That was in 1989 and I’ve been drawing them ever since, living like a Lost Boy in Neverland for the past 30 years, eternally grateful that I somehow managed to avoid the harsh realities of being a real professional artist. I say this because it’s one of the few fields in which there really are no boundaries or limits and you can get away with stuff that wouldn’t necessarily fly in the real world with corporate clients—the downside being you’re generally paid in a manner that doesn’t necessarily correspond with living in the real world either, but the relative freedom sure has been a nice consolation prize.

TB: Through the early 90s I made a lot of skate related art, never with a reason or purpose, I was just obsessed with all the art I was seeing on the bottoms of skateboards. I got involved with Fobia skateshop in Minneapolis and quickly started designing shirt graphics for them. By 1999 I was asked by Consolidated Skateboards to move to Santa Cruz CA and become their Art Director.

How would you describe your artwork to someone unfamiliar with it?

SC: Like a coloring book page for adults who never grew up? I don’t know. It’s mostly all concept-based black-and-white illustrations that you could colour-by-number if there were in fact numbers situated in the white voids.

TB: Stereotypical skateboard graphics. Bold lines, brihgt colors, skulls & guts.

What’s a day in your lab like?

SC: Nowhere near as amazing as you make it sound. I’ve never really had a proper studio space, and for many years it was simply a drawing table in my bedroom. I always dreamed of having this fantastic space cluttered with all my inspirational crap, but as long as I have my light table, a Rapidograph, and a decent stock of 1-ply Bristol paper I’m good to go. But a day in the life would just be hours spent hunched over a table with a pen gripped in my monkey fist. The only thing that has really changed over the years is the fact I need to take more breaks while drawing. That aforementioned monkey fist was no idle joke, because I’ve always gripped my pen in a very unorthodox manner and it often becomes very sore in a scary arthritic way.

TB: I usually wake up around 9:00am, answer a few emails from bed, grab a snack and head to the studio by 10:00am. Once in the studio I'll jump around between any number of project that are in progress, depending on which deadline is furthest past. Around 6:00pm I will take a break to hang with my girlfriend, get some food, skate a little, then back to the studio to work on projects till 4:00am, pass out and start over in a few hours. This includes weekends unless I'm on the road for work related things. 

First time exhibiting a show the UK / London? What do you like about the local skateboarding scene here? What can folks expect from your show?

SC: Yes, and it definitely isn’t as easy as it once sounded over a few “That would be fun!” emails. As it turns out, shipping art to the UK is actually an elaborate song-and-dance on par with the William Tell Overture that I was in no way adequately prepared to undertake. But I think we pulled it off? I’d been to London a few times in the ’90s, thanks to my stint as a writer for Big Brother Skateboard Magazine, so I was fortunate to travel around to a few of the spots with some of the top professionals then—most notably on the infamous DC Eurosupertours. Witnessing Keith Hufnagel 360-flip the Meanwhile gap was pretty incredible, but I guess that sounds like a typical American jerk response, because he isn’t even an English skater. Anyway, I haven’t been over the pond in quite some time now, so I’m excited to see the scene as it currently stands. As for expectations for the show… I think it would be interesting for the younger sect, seeing as many don’t expect graphics to be done by hand much anymore, you know, what with all the design work being done via computers and programs. I never made the technological leap when I should have, though, so all my drawings are still first done on paper before scanning them in to do the color separations for final printing. So with this exhibition you get to see both the before and after aspects of skate graphics.

TB: I've shown in London a couple times in the past, through Volcom and also thorugh Made to Skate. I love the local personalities and spot creativity in the London area. I've spent some time there and have a handfuk of close friends I'm looking forward to seeing again. As far as what to expect, I think it's pretty straightforward. A few of my favourite skateboard graphics oulled from over the years hung alongside the matching original artwork used to create the graphics.

Who are some artists & skateboarders you’re inspired by and have influenced you throughout the years?

SC: Art-wise, I’ve long admired the work of Marc McKee, Todd Francis, Todd Bratrud, Ben Horton, and Aaron Horkey, or at least in a more contemporary manner; early on, though, I was primarily in awe of VCJ, Jim Phillips, and Pushead. Yeah, I know, blasphemy, one is always supposed to cite Neil Blender and Mark Gonzales, both of whom I do admire, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of what I can and cannot do, I have to side with the more technical illustration bunch. That said, my honorable art mentions would also include Thomas Campbell, Don Pendleton, Chris Johanson, Mike Hill, Chris Reed, and Jason Celaya. Skate-wise, I have to say Natas Kaupas, Gonz, Tommy Guerrero, Matt Hensley, Mike Vallely, and Ray Barbee, because those were the video parts I could relate to as a late-’80s street skater. Anyone who came after that I definitely admired but certainly wasn’t influenced by because my skill-level only went so far.

TB: Artists... Sean cliver, Marc McKee, PusHead, Patrick Jilbert, the Green Brothers, Aaron Horkey, George Thompson. Skaters... Steve Nesser, Seth McCallum, Scott Bourne, Ryan Sublette, Mark Appleyard, Geoff Rowley and on and on and on. Skateboarders in general are inspiring and influential. 

Who’s an up and coming artist you’re excited about, if anyone?

SC: I love what Porous Walker does. He makes me happy on a daily basis via Instagram. Lately, though, I’ve just been finding myself humbled by the crop of illustrators that do incredible work for band posters; artists like Munk-One, Maxx242, Ken Taylor, NC Winters, Brandon Heart, et al. There’s some true wizardry going on there, as I have no idea how many of their separations are achieved, much less how they’re able to crank out such incredible pieces on a routine basis.

TB: Luke Hanson is great! Super dark and funny ideas, executed better and better all the time.

Do you remember the first pair of Vans you ever had?

SC: Well, I’ve always had sensitive feet, so I was never able to actually skate in Vans. Ha! My first pair of Vans came to me when I was doing a shoe design for the Vans Syndicate line back in 2012-ish. The guy who was handling my project sent me a sample pair of the Supreme “Power Corruption Lies” collaboration on the Era Pro, which I absolutely loved right up until the time they disappeared in a forgotten piece of luggage in the back of a New York City taxicab in 2015.

TB: I had a pair designed by Sean Cliver that came with a handboard!

When you’re not making art, how do you like to chill out and unplug? 

SC: Over a year-and-a-half ago, my wife and I moved out to Idyllwild, California, a small mountain town a couple hours east of Los Angeles, so when I’m not busy doing irreparable damage to my hand, I like to get out and hike and camp and be in the trees—mind you, though, I’m not some hardcore survivalist sasquatch who can go for days out in the wild subsisting on twigs and berries with only the barest of necessities. I’m just an amateur nature enthusiast at best. I still skate when I can, but gravity has certainly gotten the upper hand on me and my knees so it’s primarily a curb-hopping life for me from here on out.

TB: I jump in a lake with my nephews Weston & Knox!

What’s next for you guys that you can share with us? 

SC: Not too long ago I partnered up with a friend to do StrangeLove Skateboards, so most of my working time is dedicated to growing that however we can. We’re in it for the love of skateboarding and its associated art/visuals, because the two really do go hand-in-glove. No matter how Olympian things may get or seem, there will always be the creative weirdos in skateboarding, stirring up shit at the bottom of the pot, and that is the scene where my heart lies.

TB: More of the same as long as I can pull it off!

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