A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippen


Add A Splash of Red to Your Family Library 

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippen provides just the kind of story I want my children to see, read, and have in their heads and hearts for years.  

Allow me to tell you the story: Horace Pippen was born in West Chester, PA, in 1888.  He grew up in a large family where no one had much and everyone helped out.  From a young age, he loved to draw.  “If he could find a scrap of paper and a piece of charcoal, he drew pictures of what he’d seen that day.”  By looking around to what was available to him, Horace made scenes and people come alive on his paper.

His friends and family supported and encouraged him.  They cheered for him when he won a local drawing contest and won a set of colored pencils, a pair of brushes and a box of paints.  His first set of art supplies!  Instead of using black and white with charcoal, he began to paint scenes with natural colors—and then he’d add a splash of red.

Times got hard and he had to store his brushes and make some money.  He quit school and worked odd jobs.  Then, “far across the ocean, a terrible war had begun.”  He joined the army and left to fight.  During one fight, he was shot in the right shoulder.  He was lucky to live, but the bullet had badly damaged his arm—his drawing arm.  It no longer worked correctly; he could not draw or paint with it.

When Horace returned from the war, he got married and continued with whatever jobs a less-than-fully-able man could do.  But he missed drawing.  One night, he grabbed the iron poker from the fire and decided he would try and draw again.  Using his good left hand as a guide, he guided his right hand, and out on the paper came the pictures that were in his mind.  “He used gray, black and white, the somber colors of war.  Here and there, he added a splash of red.”

His pictures hung in a local shoe-store window where a local artists’ club saw them.  They found Horace, looked at the rest of his paintings, and offered to hold a one-man art show to display his work.  And so he did, 40 years after he won his first set of paints.  

Isn’t it a wonderful story?  I was really touched by the story of this simple, honest man. I don’t think there is a way to read this and remain unaffected by the quiet courage of Horace to overcome his injury and keep painting.   

My two older kids (5 ½ and 4) loved this book, and my older daughter Lorelei was fascinated by the illustrations, many of which were collages, that included quotations of Horace, headlines of newspaper articles about him, and small versions of his famous masterpieces.  These always warm, sometimes quirky illustrations from the very talented, Caldecott-honor illustrator Melissa Sweet (my favorite book of hers is Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade) added to the story by illustrating the text and showcasing Horace’s body of work.

As a busy mom, another aspect of the book that I appreciated was Horace’s limited supplies and time.  Because he had little of each, he planned each scene in his head—working out all the details and nuances—before actually sitting down to paint it on canvas. 

As a stay at home mother of three young kids, that is exactly how I get my writing done.  I write in my head and, when I can make the time, I quickly type it all out during my rare moments I can steal away to dedicate to that part of my life.  It was nice to read about someone else who did the same.

I can’t say enough great things about this book.  I’m a fan of introducing art to kids at a young age, and a book like this helps open their mind to art.  Horace’s simple thought of painting what you know is such good advice to kids (and us grown-ups, too).  With one word at a time or one stroke at a time, they can start with the simple and familiar.  There is so much beauty in that.

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippen

By Jen Bryant, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Knopf Books for Young Readers


Price: Available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble,and Books a Million! for approximately $13.00


Easy to Read  4
Quality of Illustrations
Appealed to Both Boys and Girls  5
Kept My Child(ren)’s interest  5
I Would Purchase This For My Family  yes
I would Purchase This As A Gift  yes
 Overall Rating

All ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being highest.

Meet the Reviewer!

Kate Schwarz is a full-time mom

and wife living in Great Falls, VA. 

In addition to reading to her three

small hildren, Kate runs marathons,

Crossfits, and blogs about raising

kids with books at


About WF Staff

Washington FAMILY Staff

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