Okotoks artist Russell Thomas recently got the chance to paint in front of a captive audience.

As part of the Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Pro-Am Luncheon, he painted Mark Messier in front of an audience of 800, including Messier himself, over the course of three hours. 

The painting went up for auction at the event, and ended up fetching $24,000.

This isn't his first time painting live at one of these events, but he hasn't been able to do it as often as he used to.

"With the improving COVID situation I've been getting more of my live painting opportunities because, for two years, I didn't get any because everything was shut down."

In April, he painted Kevin Lowe in Edmonton and has also painted a number of other hockey players in the past including the Sedin brothers and Mark and Marty Howe.

He says the stars just seemed to align for this one. 

"It was almost like a perfect storm, it was a great crowd, the auctioneer was amazing from Ritchie Bros., and it was Mark Messier, so it was the best possible scenario. It broke my all-time record which, up to that point, was Connor McDavid. I painted him up in Edmonton and it raised $18,000."

The event was a fundraiser for the titular charity, Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S., to which Thomas is always happy to contribute.

"They do a lot of work with families that are dealing with Alzheimer's and dementia. So, not just direct support to people suffering from those cognitive issues, but the families, because it's often just as hard on the families. They do amazing work and I know that that particular event raised well over $1 million."

Thomas has been keeping busy lately. He's currently painting an Adirondack chair for an upcoming charity event, and his Birdsong Studio will be participating in Elma Street Art on the Line this weekend.