In 1846 Wilson moved to Edinburgh to pursue a career as a painter. In 1849 he went to London and was taught by Edward Henry Corbould. In the same year Wilson visited Paris and then returned to Aberdeen to draw portrait miniatures. In 1853 he established a studio with John Hay where customers could be drawn or photographed. In the following years Hay and Wilson were granted several commissions by the royal family. Wilson also turned to photography to sell to tourists, traveling throughout England and Scotland. By the 1860s, Wilson became extremely successful in this field. He built premises in 1864 producing prints and storing over 45,000 negatives. He died in 1893 and the company went into voluntary liquidation nine years later.