Born in London, Tilson worked as a carpenter and joiner from 1944 to 1946. After serving in the Royal Air Force until 1949, he studied at St Martin's School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London. Tilson first produced wooden reliefs in the late 1950s. In the 1960s he was associated with Pop Art, adapting it to suit his own woodworking craft. He produced brightly-coloured wooden works which include images and letters and which reflect which his interest in symmetry, puzzles and universal symbols. From the 1970s Tilson's work became less highly structured.