Patrick Mahar, an architectural designer turned urban sketcher in his free time, works on a drawing of Temple Emanu-El in the Inner Richmond District.

Sketches illustrate homes of SF’s RV dwellers

On June 26, Patrick Mahar posted a sketch under the caption “sweet custom camper in my San Francisco neighborhood” on Reddit.

The day after, he posted another sketch of a VW bus parked at Fourth Avenue and Balboa Street.

Both posts generated thousands of votes and a hundred comments, most praising the “better-than-reality” sketches.

Mahar initially began drawing the campers and recreational vehicles while he waited for an UberPool because they were parked near his neighborhood and it took him only a few minutes to do them.

But he soon realized the vehicles were among hundreds in The City being used as homes, and he found himself drawn into “a whole subculture.”

Eventually, one Reddit user came forward to say the “sweet custom camper” Mahar sketched was in fact his Toyota Sunrader 4×4 and that it was “not fa sale!”

Mahar decided to print the sketch as a gift to the owner and put it under the vehicle’s windshield wipers.

Mahar, 29, is an architectural designer who lives in the Inner Richmond. In his time off, he is a passionate sketcher.

Most of his sketches are urban landscapes, buildings and city scenes, but his recent drawings of campers, vans and recreational vehicles have struck a chord on social media.

“I realized people live in these things the same way they live in the architecture I was drawing,” said Mahar.

“Patrick does bring the same dignity and respect to the form of a humble VW or Ford that he does to Presidio Heights mansions and Financial District banks. It’s a sense of architectural presence and shows the fundamental humanity of his approach,” said Douglas Gorney, one of Patrick’s friends and a passionate sketcher in his own right.

Mahar says he prefers the beauty of an old van to the boredom of modern cars.

Mahar started drawing little story books when he was 12, developed an interest in street art in college and graduated from an architecture school.

Most mornings, goes to the Cinderella Bakery and Cafe in the Inner Richmond and sketches from 7 to 8 a.m., and he often skips lunch and dinner to draw houses around his neighborhood.

He averages from three to four hours a day of sketching on weekdays and can jump up to eight hours on weekends.

“If it weren’t for my fiance reminding me to relax once in a while and eat dinner with her, I’d probably draw myself to death,” says Mahar.

Some of his sketches take 15 minutes, others can take two hours. His first RV was done in eight minutes.

Sketches are also measured in lunch breaks. A sketch of the Temple Emanu-El in Presidio Heights that Mahar finished on Thursday took four lunch breaks.

Gorney said when Patrick showed him a sketch of a Ford pickup, the two discussed the differences and similarities between being a camper and being homeless, since they “are sitting for long hours in San Francisco streets,” observes Gorney.

Mahar sees the conflict in drawing houses for the wealthiest as a full-time job and sketching people who live in their RVs because rents are unaffordable.

He said he “understands the struggle” faced by those living in vans. Working to pay his student debt and rent, he even has talked about living in a van with his fiancé.

He chose not to sell the Toyota Sunrader 4×4 sketch for that reason.

Still, “If a wealthy guy wanted a sketch of his car, I would take the money. I got a wedding to pay for,” Mahar said.

Despite the rising popularity of the RV sketches, money remains a challenge. Mahar said he has only sold one sketch so far, of the Museum of Ice Cream, for $200, but the Reddit boost got him two commissions from people asking him to sketch their homes.

Mahar plans to make a documentary about San Franciscans living in their cars due to skyrocketing rents with a friend who’s studying at the University of California, San Francisco and living in his van.

A dozen of his sketches also are on display at Sunset Pride, a summer art show at Hunt and Gather gallery on Irving Street, with prices ranging from $50 to $200.

DeeDee Hunt, owner of Hurt and Gather, said she first saw Mahar’s work at a show by the Sunset Sketchers, a Facebook group of 200 of which Mahar is a part, who gather every weekend in cafes around the Sunset District to sketch.

Mahar is glad to be part of the shrinking number of artists working in a rapidly changing city dominated by tech giants where “everything is going too fast.”

“This city is constantly on wheels,” he said.

tlarcher@sfexaminer.com

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