Born in 1939 in Scotland, his family moved to Vancouver, Canada. His father, Edward loved the sea and ships. He was known to have helped build the Queen Mary. Edward Kelly was a Merchant seaman for nearly 20 years.
John Kelly was an artist from an early age, encouraged to draw ships by his father. John's career as a professional musician funded John's first love, making paintings. At one time he became a Merchant Marine, an experience that further fed his understanding of ships and the ocean.
Lynton Kisteler schooled Kelly in the process of making lithographs. Kelly gained additional recognition for his lithographs depicting scenes in San Francisco. Kelly has traveled throughout the world working first in oil and watercolor. After 1975 he settled on working in pastels.
A substantial coffee table-sized book, John Kelly by Marilyn Turney explores many of Kelly's works in all mediums. It was published by Collier Publishing in 1984.