John Shelley was born in Birmingham, UK and grew up in Sutton Coldfield. He studied at Bournville School of Art, then illustration at Manchester Polytechnic under children's illustrator Tony Ross.
From 1983 he began working as a freelance illustrator in London, and by 1984 had co-founded the artist's collective Facade Studios with designer Andy Royston and illustrators Jane Ray and Willie Ryan. At the same time his interest in Ukiyo-e woodblock prints attracted him towards Japan. In 1987 he moved to Tokyo in search of the missing link between samurai and Sony, making it his home for the following 21 years.
The intervening time witnessed an outpouring of commercial illustration for clients in Japan and children's books for publishers across the globe. In Japan his award-winning commercial art has been used in everything from animated TV ads, poster and newspaper campaigns to character merchandising and editorial illustration. Bilingual in Japanese and with a unique insight into the Japanese creative market he has stood as a committee member of JAGDA (Japan Graphic Designer Association) and presented at colleges across the country.
Shelley's work for publishing follows a more elaborate vein of pen and watercolor. Following his first major picture book The Secret in the Matchbox, his children's illustrations have been published in the UK, USA, Europe, Japan and the Far East, and have continued to gain steady recognition across the world. He has illustrated more than forty children's books, including Outside-In: A Lift-the-Flaps Body Book by Claire Smallman and Family Reminders by Julie Danneberg. John lives in Norwich, England.