Johnny Depp's Body Art

Updated July 27, 2013

Johnny is well known for his body art. Most of his tattoos have been done by New York tattoo artist Jonathan Shaw. Johnny has said: "My body is a journal in a way. It's like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself, whether you do it to yourself with a knife or with a professional tattoo artist."

Johnny also has a few self-inflicted knife wounds on his left forearm. They were done as a way to remind himself of things that happened, both good and bad. In an interview with Smash Hits Magazine (1993), he is quoted as saying:"I wouldn't advise it though!"

Click on the photos to view in full size.

Native American Head
Johnny has a Cherokee Indian chief head on his right bicep. This is a tribute to his ancestral heritage; his grandmother was Cherokee. It is reported as Johnny's first tattoo, dated some time in 1980. He received it in Long Beach, California. The artist was Mark Mahoney.

Betty Sue
Johnny has "Betty Sue" tattooed inside a heart surrounded by a tribal marking on his left bicep. It is a tribute to his mother. It was done on May 31st, 1988.

Inverted Triangle
On his left upper arm above his "Betty Sue" tattoo, Johnny has an inverted black triangle. Johnny has not said what it means to him but an inverted triangle is generally a symbol of the feminine, of a heart or an expression of romantic love.

Wino Forever
On his right upper arm, above the Cherokee head, there's a banner with the words "Wino Forever". This originally read "Winona Forever", a dedication to his then-girlfriend Winona Ryder. When they broke up, he had it altered by removing the last two letters.

The Brave Symbol
This is a symbol used and seen in various scenes of the film The Brave, which Johnny directed and starred in. It's placed on the inside of his right lower arm. Click on the black text to read Johnny's interpretation of this symbol.

After the birth of his daughter Lily-Rose Melody , Johnny had her name tattooed on the left side of his chest close to his heart.

Swallow and Jack
This is the tattoo seen in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl, as a signature of the pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. Johnny had it done after the completion of the film with one difference - the swallow flies towards him. Under it he has the name of his son, Jack. Johnny has stated that he made the change to the direction of the swallow because, "You have to have it flying towards you. He's gotta always fly back to you."

Between the thumb and the index finger of his left hand, Johnny has the number 3. According to Johnny: "Three is a sort of magical number for me. It's a very creative number. Triangle, trinity, you know, two people make another person. Three is a mystical, magical number." But on another occasion he was quoted as saying: "It's just a three, man, a friend just put it there one day while we were bored."

Three Rectangles
Perhaps the same meaning applies to the three rectangles Johnny has on his right index finger as does the number 3 on his hand. He has referred to the rectangles as a "permanent phone doodle."

Skull and Crossbones
On the outside of his right lower leg, Johnny has a tattoo of a skull and crossbones with the words "death is certain" under it. There's a story about this tattoo as told by Jonathan Shaw. The following is edited for language: "We were like a little gang then in the 90's ... Me and Johnny Depp and Jim Jarmusch and Iggy Pop. We even called ourselves the 'Death is Certain Club'. We all wore the same skull ring and we all had the same tattoo. A skull and crossbones with the words 'death is certain' that I did on us one night down in my little basement tattoo studio off the Bowery. Back in the day when William Burroughs still lived on the Bowery ... Everybody but Iggy got the skull and crossbones carved in their hide. The tattoo was actually his idea. Then he was the only one who didn't get it the night I did them all. He did write a song called 'Death is Certain' though, and he even put a big picture of his hand wearing our skull ring on an album cover ..."

A question mark with an x instead of a dot is tattooed on Johnny's inside lower right leg. It is the same question mark as in the Brave symbol.

Unknown Marks
Something looking like three vertical stripes or three dots are found on the inside of his left lower leg.

Silence Exile Cunning
This tattoo was first seen at the MTV Movie Awards in June 2008. It's on the inside of his left lower arm and it reads "Silence Exile Cunning". This is from the book by James Joyce A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. A few pages before the end of the book, the main character says: "I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use - silence, exile, cunning."

Three Hearts
In April 2009 during the filming of The Rum Diary in Puerto Rico, three hearts were noted on the tricep of Johnny's left arm. When Johnny was asked about the significance of this tattoo during an interview promoting Public Enemies, he pointed at each heart in turn and said "Vanessa, Lily-Rose, Jack".

First noticed in the press conference photos from the Kustendorf Film Festival 2010, both of Johnny's inner forearms appeared to have been tattooed with portraits. In an interview with Patti Smith for the January 2011 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, Johnny identified the portrait on his right arm as Jim, his beloved grandfather. During a press conference for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, he was asked about the tattoos on his arms. He identified the portrait on his left arm: "[It's] my mom. She was a waitress at the Holiday Inn in Kentucky. [This is] her waitress picture."

Gonzo Fist
Several new tattoos were first seen in photos taken during the summer of 2010, during the filming period of Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides. The first, seen on Johnny's left shin, was a two-thumbed fist - a symbol associated with Hunter S. Thompson, the pioneer of Gonzo journalism and close friend to Johnny. This symbol was originally used in Thompson's 1970 campaign for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado. Two months later, it was noticed that words were added above the fist.

Modified Skull and Crossbones
In late July 2010, a newly inked tattoo was noted on Johnny's left forearm. It appears that it could be a skull and crossbones which includes words both above and below the skull. Photos to date are of poor quality but speculation is that it reads "Salve Uvum".

Skull and Crossbones
A skull and crossbones tattoo on Johnny's right inner upper arm was first noticed in photos taken in mid-August 2010.

"A Rook"
A new tattoo was first noticed in photos taken by paparazzi mid-August 2011 on Johnny's left lower arm just above his wrist. On the cover of the November 2011 issue of Vanity Fair, it became evident that this tattoo is a bird holding a hand of cards in his claw. Johnny identified it in a BBC Breakfast interview on November 7, 2011: "That's a Rook. Rook was a card game, an old-schoool card game, that my grandfather played all the time. I remember him playing that very well."

Wind Over Heaven
This tattoo was first noted on October 23, 2011, when Johnny played at the Continential Club in Austin, Texas while promoting The Rum Diary. It is believed to be Wind over Heaven from the I Ching, an ancient Chinese text called Book of Changes. It's meaning is "Forcing your way will only bring misfortune. Remain focused on your path and remove obstacles with gentle actions. Look at the long term. Plant the correct seeds now to reap a harvest in the future. Cultivate patience, tolerance, adaptability and detachment. Accept that all you can do is change yourself." In a November 2011 interview with Douglas Brinkley for ASPENPEAK magazine, Johnny explained the significance of the tattoo: "Recently, right before coming to Austin, I went to Disneyland with Damien [Echols] of the West Memphis Three. He had just gotten out of jail. He wanted to see Disneyland so I took him. Afterwards we went and got tattoos together. That's my way of documenting things in my life." In an article written by Bryan Enk for Movie Talk, Damien identified it as "Hsiao Ch'u" or "Taming Force." He explained it like this: "What this represents is, whenever you're facing huge obstacles, you don't focus on them or you'll lose heart and be defeated. Instead focus on just putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time."

No Reason
The "No Reason" tattoo on the inside of Johnny's right wrist, which was first seen in April 2012, is identical to one sported by Marilyn Manson and Damien Echols. According to interviews with Marilyn Manson, it represents a strong bond between the three men. As for the choice of wording, apparently it simply indicates what it states - for no reason other than the representation of the bond!

Skeleton Key
First seen at the Golden Gods Awards on April 11th 2012, this tattoo on the inside of Johnny's left arm appears to be a Harley Davidson skeleton key, another tattoo he shares with Damien Echols. Johnny has not revealed what this tattoo means to him. However, Damien explained that he and Johnny received the tattoo at the same time, he in New York and Johnny in Los Angeles while on the phone together.(Source: Yahoo Movies)

"Brother" Circle
In photos from the Dark Shadows premiere in Japan on May 12, 2012, a circular tattoo (in part) can be seen on the right side of Johnny's chest. The writing appears to be from the Theban alphabet and spells out the word 'brother' in a continuous circle. In the center is Johnny and Damien Echols' names. Johnny discussed the origin of this tattoo he shares with Damien Echols with The Associated Press at the premiere of West of Memphis, a documentary about about Damien Echols and his two co-defendants: "This one Damien designed. It's one of my all-time favorites, and it means quite a lot to me. It translates to "brotherly love" or something like that."

The "Z" or the "zigzag" tattoo on the back of Johnny's left hand was first seen when he performed at The Mint on 25th May 2012. It appeared a short time after Johnny's honorary adoption into the Comanche Nation on 16th May 2012, and although the true meaning of his tattoo hasn't been revealed, we do know these line definitions are common to the Native Americans. The zigzag line in Native American glyphs represents movement upon Mother Earth and closing connections with Father Sky. If the middle line of the "Z" slants to the right (as it does on Johnny's tattoo), it indicates forces that call loudly to a person's soul - passions or issues that compel a person to take a chosen path of life. The two horizontal lines (top and bottom) indicate the journey of life and the understanding as we walk upon the grounding plane of Earth.

Jack Depp, Johnny's son, designed the tattoo on the back of Johnny's right arm. It appears to be a young man playing guitar. The tattoo was first noted in photos taken with fans in late June, 2012 at Creede Town Hall. According to Bill Carter's Facebook page he and Johnny had them done together at Southside Tattoo in Austin, Texas.

The Crow
Bill Carter, Damien Echols, Johnny Depp, Joel Harlow and Ken Wyatt all share the same crow tattoo. Johnny got inked on the back of his right hand at Black Line Studios in Toronto sometime in early Fall 2012. Damien told People magazine in early September, "The art is a nod to the 1994 movie The Crow about a man who is murdered, but comes back to life. When somebody comes back to life, it's the crow that brings them back to the living."

On the front of Johnny's right lower arm is a lightening bolt style snake in the center of a darkened oval. It was first noted in photos from the Comanche Nation Fair, September 29, 2012, in Oklahoma. In the Native American culture, the snake represents "primordial energy, it is a very old creature. It moves in a spiral all the time. It has no arms, no legs, it always goes forward, so it is like 'one-minded', and symbolizes the ability to concentrate on one thing, and move towards that with no distraction." (Source: ascendingstarseed) Although Johnny has not spoken on what this symbol means to him, in light of his recent involvement with the Comanche Nation this interpretation seems plausable.

Comanche Shield
The Native American symbol, a Comanche Shield, on Johnny's right shin pays tribute to his adoption into the Comanahe Nation. It was first seen in The Commanche Nation News Special Fair Edition. The fair took place on September 28 - 30, 2012.

Les Fleurs du Mal
Marilyn Manson and Johnny shared the experience of being inked with artwork inspired by Les Fleurs du Mal by French poet Charles Baudelaire on April 23, 2012. Manson described it as "the flowers of evil, this giant skeleton thing." A partial look at the design, a tree with a skeleton as the trunk covering Johnny's back, was noticed while scenes were being reshot for The Lone Ranger in September 2012. (Photo source:

On Johnny's left bicep is a drawing of a faceless man with the words "Man is a giddy thing" underneath. It was first noted in photos from the June 19th Santa Fe press conference for The Lone Ranger. Johnny explained in an interview while promoting the film in Russia that his son, Jack drew the image.

Although Johnny hasn't yet explained it's significance to him, "Man is a giddy thing" is a line from Shakesphere's Much Ado About Nothing. It refers to man being frivolous and impulsive, and in the context of the play, especially in affairs of the heart.

"Come with me...Slim"
The words "Come with me...Slim" on the side of Johnny's rife elbow were also first noted in photos from the Sante Fe press conference for The Lone Ranger. There is much talk within the fan community of the significance of this addition. However, it is only speculation at this time.

Jonathan Shaw
Johnny Depp marking Jonathan Shaw (for a change!) and the Death Is Certain Club.