John Wells was born in London, and trained as a doctor at University College Hospital. He learned to paint at evening classes at Saint Martin's School of Art. From 1936 to 1945, he worked as a General Practitioner for the Isles of Scilly. After the Second World War he decided to pursue a full-time career as an artist. At that time he settled in Newlyn, Cornwall and became closely involved with the renowned artistic community at the nearby town of St. Ives.