Born in Fife, Houston studied and subsequently taught at Edinburgh College of Art. He retired in 1989, after having been departmental head of the painting school and director of the post-graduate department. The style of his early paintings was expressive and semi-abstract, but in the late 1960s his paintings became more atmospheric, influenced by Turner and American Abstract Expressionism. One of Houston's favourite subjects was the sea as he was captivated by its restless energy. He was married to the Scottish artist Elizabeth Blackadder.