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Finding the perfect Valentine's Day present is a challenge: it should be romantic, but not cliche; practical, but not boring; and sentimental, but not cheesy. After wracking my brain for a few days trying to think of a gift for my boyfriend that fits those criteria, I finally thought of the ideal present: a piece of hand-painted pottery.

A quick Google search brought me to the website of Cone 06 Pottery Painting Studio, which, as luck would have it, is just down the road from my apartment in Naples. I asked two of my colleagues, features reporter Shelby Reynolds and Collier Citizen reporter Ashley Collins, if they wanted to accompany me and make gifts for their own boyfriends. They did, so we all set out one recent Friday night to get our Van Gogh on. 

Picking out a piece was a daunting task because the studio had everything imaginable, from superhero banks to dog bowls. Although I probably should have followed my own advice and gone with something practical like a mug or a plate, I ended up selecting an Army tank since my boyfriend is somewhat of a military history buff. 

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Collins chose a video game controller for her Playstation-loving boyfriend and Reynolds picked out a sunflower-shaped picture frame since she and her boyfriend met while working at the The Sunflower, Wichita State's student newspaper.

If we thought the hardest part was over, it wasn't: now we had to pick our paints, and it wasn't just a matter of deciding on colors, but texture, too. The studio offered a unique "fleckle" paint which has a base color and flecks of other colors in it, as well, giving the piece a sandpaper-like texture. There was also a glitter option. The paints all had fun names, too, like Bananarama and Butter Me Up.

Both Collins and Reynolds chose to incorporate fleckle paint into their pieces, but I went the more traditional route, picking out flat paints in hues of brown and green for my tank.

After a few simple instructions from the friendly staff — don't try to use regular paint on top of the fleckle paint, wash your paintbrushes thoroughly between colors, etc. — we got started.

While the other two began painting right away, I first sketched out my camouflage design with pencil, which burns off in the kiln, so I could employ a "paint-by-number" type of strategy. The great thing about my design was if it got a little messy, it would just look intentional, like part of the camouflage.

Collins and I both struggled with the smaller portions of our respective pieces: for her, it was the controller's buttons, and for me, it was the tank's gun, hatch and other parts I'm not even going to pretend I know the names of.

At the last minute I had a stroke of inspiration and decided to add one final touch that would make the piece even more personal: a license plate on the back with my boyfriend's name on it.

We finished after about two hours. Just like when I painted a portrait of my cat, I felt a bit rushed toward the end since Collins and Reynolds were both done and I didn't want to keep them from the rest of their Friday night; however, I’m also a self-proclaimed perfectionist, so to me, a project is never truly finished — there's always some part of it that can be improved. (Although for the record, if you don't finish your piece in one day, you do have the option of coming back another day for no additional fee.)

We then gave our pieces to the staff to be glazed and fired. The final products are usually ready between three to five days, but for an extra $9, they can be ready in two.

Although our pieces were ready Monday afternoon, I didn't get a chance to pick them up until Tuesday. When I first saw my tank, I was thrilled, but when I took a closer look at home, I realized that I had completely forgotten to paint the section under the main gun, so it was stark white.

That obviously didn't sit well with me, so I did what any self-respecting sorority girl would do and got innovative; two trips to Target and three different shades of green nail polish later,  the white spot was gone!

Does it look as good as it would have if I had remembered to paint it in the store? No. Does it look a heck of a lot better than if I had done nothing? Yes. And will my boyfriend notice the difference? Not a chance.

Now all I have to do is hope he doesn't read this article before Feb. 14...

If You Go

Cone 06 Pottery Painting Studio

Where: 3369 Pine Ridge Road, Suite 103, Naples, FL 34109

When: Monday - Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: $8 and up

Information: 239-513-0288 or cone06pottery@gmail.com

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