Born the son of a shipwright, James Wilson Carmichael (1800-1868), was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He was to later reside in Brighton.
He was apprenticed to a firm of shipbuilders then in 1823 he changed career and became an artist. After working with John Dobson, a Newcastle architect, Carmichael began to paint local industrial scenes. In 1838 he published a set of engravings entitled Views of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway.
In 1840, Carmichael moved to Brighton where he painted several paintings of Brighton including: Kemptown from the Sea (1840), The Seafront at Brighton (1847), The Brighton Viaduct (1848) and The Brighton Viaduct on the Brighton, Lewes and Hastings Railway (1848).
The last two paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848.
Carmichael wrote two books on painting: The Art of Marine Painting in Water Colours (1859) and The Art of Marine Painting in Oil Colours (1864).
James Wilson Carmichael died in Scarborough in 1868.