Jock Macdonald was born in Thurso, Scotland in 1897. He studied at the Edinburgh College of Art with a focus on textiles and commercial advertising, he graduated in 1922. He then moved to England, working first as a fabric designer in Carlisle, and then as a design teacher at Lincoln School of Art.
In 1926, MacDonald moved to Vancouver becoming a member of the faculty at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts. While teaching at the Vancouver School he met Frederick Varley, who inspired his artistic exploration with oil paints.
In 1933, Varley and MacDonald left the Vancouver School to found the British Columbia College of Arts. Unfortunately the school went bankrupt after two years.
MacDonald moved to Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, where he found great inspiration in the natural landscape and native culture.
In 1936, he returned to Vancouver due to health reasons and began teaching again. In the early 1940's, Macdonald befriended Lawren Harris they painted together in the Rockies. During this time he experimented with watercolours.
MacDonald moved briefly to Calgary in 1946, to take a position at the Provincial Institute of Technology, but went on the following year to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, where he spent the remainder of his career.
MacDonald studied with Hans Hofmann during the summers of 1948 and 1949, and in 1953 helped form Toronto's first abstract group Painters Eleven.
In 1954 he went to France on a fellowship and spent several months painting in Venice. While in Venice he experimented with different mediums such as duco and lucite, as well as mastered new paitning techniques.
MacDonald exhibited his work widely both nationally and internationally, and held his first solo show was in 1941 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
He was a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters and Federation of Canadian Artists, and was instrumental in founding The Calgary Group. He was an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy and a recipient of the Queen's Coronation Medal in 1953.
He died in 1960, many have said that at this time he was at the height of his artistic and expressive development.