Billy Minks gave himself his first tattoo — a small cross near his thumb and index finger — at 12 years old.
"I did my first tattoo with needle and thread, and I didn't know what I was doing, but I was doing it," the Kewanee native said. "But my grandpa came in and busted me and my cousins for doing tattoos on each other. That stopped it until I was 17, and I kept going from there."
Having grown up watching his father and uncles work with needle and thread, Minks said he quickly learned the art and craftsmanship that goes into tattooing.
"They did it the old school way, and I really liked it. The thought of doing tattoos was as cool as can be," he said. "I've been a self-taught artist ever since."
He's been an independent tattoo artist for more than 27 years, and this winter, he's working with his wife, Mary Minks, to open LeClaire's first tattoo and piercing shop. Minks Inks should open in December at 105 North Cody Road, the couple said.
Mary Minks, originally from Moline, has worked in sales most of her life. The couple has been together for around seven years, and bought a house in LeClaire six years ago.
Unlike her husband, Mary Minks didn't get her first tattoo until she was in her early 40s. But, she too, chose to give herself her first ink.
"I got my first little gun, and once you get one tattoo, you just keep going," she said.
Billy Minks previously worked at TNT Tattoo in Kewanee, where the owners became "like parents to me in the tattoo industry." The artists became some of the first tattooers to participate in the Sturgis on the River Motorcycle Rally in Davenport, he said.
Billy Minks describes himself as an "old school line artist."
"I do almost everything. It's my own style and own unique way. And a lot of people like it, because they keep coming back," he said. "People really like my flowers and handwriting. And I've had fun experimenting with different things, like dragons and pin-ups."
For years, the couple has been doing tattoos for friends in the area, but Mary Minks said, "we realized our client base was getting too big, and it was time to start our own family business."
They decided to renovate a space in LeClaire's historic shopping district along the Mississippi River. Mary Minks said she painted the space to match the view of the river, with colors she's named "Mississippi mud" and "sky blue."
"People can come out on the deck here and watch the barges come by. It's peaceful out here with the river," Billy Minks said. "And there's Tug Fest and car shows down here. We think we've found a good location with a lot going on here for a small town. We hope to be a part of that."
While a tattoo and piercing shop will be new for LeClaire, Mary Minks said she's creating a "family environment," and hopes to boost sales for other neighboring businesses.
"When grandma comes in and wants to get a tattoo, she'll be welcomed here. Everyone's welcome," she said. "Some people are afraid of tattoo places, but we want everyone to feel welcome, no matter what age or gender. We hope everybody will come by and get some ink."
The shop will also offer ear and body piercings by using a needle.
For more information, visit minksinks.com.