Born in Peterhead, Wales moved to Aberdeen at a young age. Whilst at the city’s Marischal College he began selling small painted portraits on tin plates. Seemingly self-taught, Wales caught the attention of art amateur, Francis Peacock, who gave him several commissions. By 1783 Wales had moved to London and began exhibiting his portraits at the Society of Artists and the Royal Academy. In 1791 he travelled to Bombay and met Sir Charles Warre Malet, the Resident at the Maratha Court. Malet gave Wales patronage and he painted many of the Maratha chiefs and their ministers. Whilst there, Wales met the artists Thomas and William Daniell who encouraged him to continue with his drawings of Indian caves and temples. In 1800 Malet published several of Wales’s drawings of Bombay.