Research + Art + Authorship:

What traditional maps offer
that phone apps cannot.

Jeffrey Obser in Mayto, 2012

Though I've had invaluable help and advice from many friends, I built my map technique from scratch over a dozen years - starting with pen drawings at a seaside café, and culminating in terabytes of computer files and an office full of gear.

In that same period of time I have watched as a handful of technology corporations has swallowed the cartography business, much as they have swallowed most journalism and the music industry. 

But something happened on the way to the digital future: Some of us began to figure out that no amount of high-resolution satellite imagery, nor even images from street level, can substitute for the interpretation and authorship of a real human being who has actually been there. 

The Mapa Jeff Story

I came to mapping in my 30s after earlier jobs in travel publishing, technical editing, and journalism. I was at loose ends in early 2004, and found myself in Yelapa, doodling self-indulgently at the Vortex Café.

The manager there, April Jones, saw me one day and said: "Why don't you do something productive and make a map of this place?"

Yelapa was, and still is, a remote and hidden-away community, though it's only an hour boat ride from the major Pacific resort of Puerto Vallarta. A dirt track comes in steeply across the mountains, but it has never had any roads wide enough for cars. The pedestrian byways of the town, laid over steep hills, can't be explained with a conventional two-dimensional, north-facing map.

So I drew Yelapa as a fanciful portrait, shrinking its kaleidoscopic breadth and wonder down to a single 9-by-12-inch pen drawing, oriented due south, with a miniature regional map at the lower left:

The first print of 100 numbered copies, released in March, 2005, barely paid for the printing cost but it predictably got me the local nickname Map Jeff. 

(Actually, Mayra started it one day, at Café Bahia, 
by calling me "Jeff Mapa." Mapa Jeff is a compromise between the two.)

I kept returning for 4 years, updating the map as a high-quality boutique print on into 2015. I redrew Yelapa from scratch in 2008, the last time I would draw any map by hand simply with pen on paper (the original is in a frame):

Over time, I learned how to add color, then gradients, with software filters and tricks. This is the 2014 Yelapa Map, my favorite of this second generation:

The current Yelapa map was redrawn from scratch for the 2016 
season and is in its 3rd edition for 2018.

Puerto Vallarta: Grids on Hills

As early as 2005, I realized that Puerto Vallarta itself was poorly served by any of the north-facing flat maps currently in circulation. So I projected its street grid over a geometric horizon in 2005 (this was in the days before Google Earth).

I thought it would be easy, for some reason - just a snack after the feat of compressing Yelapa down like that. Not!

In spurts, over 2008-2010, I walked and drove around enough to compile an early hand drawing.

In 2010 came first Puerto Vallarta Walking Map:

 In 2010 I moved to Puerto Vallarta full-time and really got to work, and in December, 2012, the second-generation Puerto Vallarta Walking Map emerged from my studio:

The current Puerto Vallarta Centro & South Coast Foldable Map and the PV Cruise Day Trip Map are both based on this drawing.

Central Pacific Mexico

"What we need," said a storekeeper, a Mexican woman, when I showed her an early PV print in 2006 or so, "is a regional map." The Central Pacific Mexico road map, an early technique of portraying a region laid across to the horizon, was printed in 2010.

Living in Puerto Vallarta, I completed a series of 10 maps covering the city in its entirety, from 2010-2013. They were featured for a few seasons at the Old Town Farmers' Market.

Sayulita and San Pancho had early editions (2010), and I researched and drew Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerías, and La Cruz de Huanacaxtle (all 2012) for early editions that are in very limited circulation.

The first regional roadmap was for Cabo Corrientes - an unforgettably magical, empty, quiet realm of dirt roads to explore and bounce around in. Shore coves to mountain pueblos to wild Pacific beachfront, all in one 25-mile-square frame.

That was the second wave in the development of my regional, panoramic technique. Meanwhile, In 2012, I spent a summer building out a new technique with Nuevo Vallarta. I piled around in the mornings, then retreated home and drew it up day by day as one humungous wall hanging:

Nuevo Vallarta 2012 remains my personal favorite for style and color - but its enormous size (3x4 feet or larger) made it only suitable for wall hanging. Having not had any luck trying to compress this into a simple two-sided foldable, Nuevo remains in my disk drives, awaiting an idea or a patron.

In 2013 I moved back to California, hopped back and forth to Mex for a while, completed the two-frame Riviera Nayarit Roadmap in late 2013, then set about making all my titles portable.

I added a side B of pueblo crossroads maps to the Cabo Corrientes map in 2015, and the portable-foldable standard 5x7 format was born. The product lineup is now 8 titles and growing:


Next on the drawing board: San Pancho, Lo de Marcos, and Los Ayala.

Paper doesn't crash.

love my gizmos. I use technology all the time. I use Garmins and Google Earth, and have numerous pet Apple thingies. But sometimes, if you are really out there being alive, you drop them in rivers. If you are really in Mexico, and not just in some seaside all-inclusive, your Internet access is not going to be seamless.

Do you want to understand where you are going, or just be told where to go by a machine?
Isn't it wise to keep a record that won't let you down when the Internet does?

Treat yourself to a real map before you go.


  1. You are brilliant, my dear Map Jeff. I proudly have my framed, signed copy of the black & white 2009 edition; it hangs above the identically framed 2015 color edition. Next time I visit I will have to get a more current fold-up walking map - things are always changing in Yelapa.

    1. Thanks as always for your encouragement, Kathryn. Who knows, maybe one day I'll go back to those old black-and-white thick-as-pancakes art prints!

  2. I am having a hard time figuring out how to order maps here. I need one for Puerto Vallarta and one of Yelapa. Please use my updated email address. dianablandak@gmail.com