Stobart was born in Leicester in 1929; his mother died from a seizure as a complication of the birth. He was brought up in Allestree[nb 1] and Weston Underwood, Derbyshire, and was educated at Derby Grammar School. Stobart's adored brother, George, told him, late in life, that he, John, was "drawing ALL the time on any scrap of paper you could find, from the age of 6". Stobart struggled academically but showed a talent for painting. Despite lacking the appropriate educational qualifications, he was able to enrol at Derby School of Art[nb 2] in 1946 as a result of the influence of his father, a prominent pharmacist in Derby. His successful art school career led to Stobart being offered a prestigious scholarship at the Royal Academy Schools in London in 1950. He spent five years at the Academy, interrupted by a period of National Service.