Born in Edinburgh in 1964. McLaren was schooled in Fife then studied at the Edinburgh College of Art. While there he won the John Kinross Scholarship, from the Royal Scottish Academy, which allowed him to study in Florence, and the Richard Ford Award, from the Royal Academy in London, to study the works in the Prado, Madrid. Post graduation, he won an Andrew Grant Scholarship which introduced him first hand to American art. Wyeth, Pollock, Lichtenstein and Warhol.
Early influences include the collection of Scottish Colourists and post war expressionist paintings found in his home town of Kirkcaldy's Museum. As a student he travelled by bicycle to see collections in Amsterdam, Arnhem, Paris and London.
In 1989 McLaren won the inaugural British Airways Most Promising Artist Award. This award allowed him to travel and exhibit worldwide for the first time.
These experiences have largely influenced what and how he has painted ever since.