Mackintosh was born and educated in Glasgow, Scotland. In spite of his rumored dyslexia he was a good student and won numerous awards including the Alexander wall laser cut maps Thomas Traveling Scholarship for the "furtherance of the study of ancient classical architecture..." which took him to France, Belgium and Italy in 1890. Ironically by this time, he had come to regard Classical architecture as 'foreign in spirit and far away' and totally inappropriate for the climate of Scotland.
In 1884 he commenced evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art while apprenticing for the architect John Hutchinson (1841-1908). In laser cut maps 1989, the awards brought him to the attention of the newly formed architectural partnership if John Honeyman (1831-1914) and Keppie who recognized his exceptional skill as a draughtsman. He was to remain with the firm for twelve years, eventually being appointed lead designer until a combination of events culminated in his leaving the firm in 1914.
During his time with Honeyman and Keppie, he continued to win design competitions. In 1896 the firm won a competitions to design a new building for the Glasgow School of Art which was to become one of Mackintosh's most important works in which his singular style became internationally laser cut topographical maps acclaimed.