McDonald completed an Economics degree at the University of Sydney and began painting while he worked in the banking and finance field. At the age of 32 he left that career and enrolled at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney where he studied full time for three years from 1993 to 1995. He was awarded the school's Brett Whiteley Scholarship in 1995 and was a finalist in the NSW Travelling Art Scholarship in the same year.

Straight out of art school, he left Australia to live and paint on the small island of Leros in Eastern Greece and afterwards in Italy, continuing his studies at the Florence Academy of Art in 1999/2000. Since 1995, he has had 30 solo exhibitions across Australia, in Greece, Japan, and the UK. McDonald has also exhibited in numerous group exhibitions and art fairs in Australia, South-East Asia, Canada, the United States and Europe.

In 2007 he traveled to Antarctica as the Expedition Artist at the invitation of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation and visited again 2 years later, as the artist in residence for Aurora Expeditions. Following his first trip he staged a major exhibition of paintings and photography entitled Antarctica in London.

He has been a frequent finalist in numerous national art awards including the Paddington Art Prize, The Sulman Prize, Dobell Drawing Prize, the Country Energy Landscape Prize, The Blake Prize, The Kedumba Drawing Award, The Eutick Memorial Still Life Prize, The Kings School Art Prize, the Hutchins Prize, The JADA Drawing Prize, the Tattersalls Landscape Art Prize, the Montalto Sculpture Prize, the Australian Studio Furniture Design Awards and the Salon de Refuse in 2013. He has been a finalist in Australia's biggest art competition, the Archibald Prize, four times: in 2009, 2011,2012 and in 2015 with a portrait of WA singer songwriter Abbe May. 

In late 2016, McDonald began a film project concentrating on the global refugee and migrant crisis. The project, titled Howling Eagle, is creating a series of short films which share the human stories of refugees and highlight the humanitarian organisations that are supporting them. In 2017 he travelled across Greece and to Jordan and in 2018, he will be travelling to Syria to continue making films and listening to the stories of displaced people.

Angus McDonald lives and works in Lennox Head, near Byron Bay on the east coast of Australia.