John McClelland was born in Stone Mountain, Georgia. He studied art at Auburn University and in New York, pursuing a goal of becoming a magazine illustrator, and started his illustration career in Atlanta and St. Louis. His new career was interrupted by WW II, when he used his talent to illustrate pilot training manuals in San Antonio. After the war, he used his G.I. bill to study portrait painting with Jerry Farnsworth.
McClelland returned to magazine illustration, working more than twenty years in New York for publications such as McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, Reader's Digest and The Saturday Evening Post. His portraits of Caroline Kennedy as a child appeared on the covers of Good Housekeeping and Woman's Day magazine.
After leaving illustration, he continued portrait work and also became well known for producing artwork for more than 40 limited edition collectors plates.
John McClelland and his wife left their longtime home in Connecticut and moved to Savannah in 1986. He is a founding member of The Landings Art Association. He now pursues his own work, and paints romantic, impressionistic southern landscapes in both watercolor and oil as well as commissioned portraits.