Teacher Tattoos: Johnstone Edition

Teacher Tattoos: Johnstone Edition

In this week’s edition of Teacher’s Tattoos, I sat down with the Head of Carver Center’s Mathematics Department, Mr. Johnstone, to learn what interesting stories lie behind his tattoos. 

Mr. Johnstone’s journey with colorful body art began as a mode of secretive rebellion. Tattoos gave him a sense of control over his body. All of his tattoos are self-designed and encompass the perfect mix of geometry, family, and inspiration. But it did not start that way.  He set out for his first tattoo at the age of twenty one with the intent of it being a vivid depiction of the one and only Tasmanian Devil. Sadly, the shop closed and Mr. Johnstone’s skin remained free of any Looney Tunes characters. 

Then came a much more sentimental one. A well-thought-out yet simple design makes up what he calls his “Friendship Forever” tattoo. It includes only the solid outline of a triangle with an infinity sign in the center, personally designed by Mr. Johnstone himself. Each side represents one member of a trio and the infinity sign serves as a symbol of the lasting bond between them.

The next tattoo is bolder both in design and meaning. Mr. Johnstone’s “screw-you-to-the-world” tattoo is a solid, uniform cuff of black waves that wraps around his right arm just above his elbow. It was his first tattoo that he could not hide with long sleeves or pants. This was the final act of the rebellion that would break down the barrier for all the vivid images to follow. 

A fully-colored and detailed blue wave has a more philosophical background. Based on Bruce Lee’s teachings about water, it serves as a reminder to remain open-minded and never be so set in your ways that you can not fully become part of your environment.

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

— Bruce Lee

Last, but certainly not least, the most awesome, geometrically detailed shark anyone has ever seen sits on his right arm. Designed, sketched, and positioned by Mr. Johnstone himself, it was inspired both by his love for math and the fact that sharks are unable to swim backward. No matter what, they must keep powering forward with no time to go back and revel in the past.


Mr. Johnstone has a lot more in common with his tattoos than one might initially think. Anyone who has had the privilege of having him as a teacher knows that his character is just as colorful as his tattoos, but they do not get in the way of his passion for mathematics. He intertwines both to not only keep his classes interesting but also engaging and effective.