Face recognition (FR) with a single training sample per person (STSPP) is a very challenging problem due to the lack of information to predict the variations in the query sample. Sparse representation based classification has shown interesting results in robust FR; however, its perfor-mance will deteriorate much for FR with STSPP. To address this issue, in this paper we learn a sparse variation dic-tionary from a generic training set to improve the query sample representation by STSPP. Instead of learning from the generic training set independently w.r.t. the gallery set, the proposed sparse variation dictionary learning (SVDL) method is adaptive to the gallery set by jointly learning a projection to connect the generic training set with the gallery set. The learnt sparse variation dictionary can be easily integrated into the framework of sparse representa-tion based classification so that various variations in face images, including illumination, expression, occlusion, pose, etc., can be better handled. Experiments on the large-scale CMU Multi-PIE, FRGC and LFW databases demonstrate the promising performance of SVDL on FR with STSPP.