Sam Visser has lived a lot of life. With a roster of clients far beyond his years, the 19-year-old wunderkind has been painting famous faces such as Kim Kardashian West, Ariana Grande, and Lily-Rose Depp since far before he could buy a lottery ticket or get a tattoo without parental consent.

Raised in Ventura, a small surf town on the California coast, Visser spent his childhood creating all kinds of art while always feeling a gravitational pull towards makeup. “Every Saturday I’d go to the MAC counter by my house and just watch,” he explains. “I was an only child, and instead of playing with siblings or friends, I’d lock myself in my bedroom and just play with makeup.” Honing his skills in the age of YouTube and Instagram, Visser developed an obsessive knowledge of the industry, one that served him well on a fateful day inside a Make Up For Ever boutique on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles. It was 2012 when Visser spotted and recognized makeup artist David Hernandez, introduced himself, and was invited to be a fly on the wall on the set of a David LaChapelle shoot a few days later. He was 13.

Liz HarlanPhoto: Sam Visser

“I was a child, and I don’t know how I even fathomed it,” says Visser of that chance meeting. “It was true Hollywood magic, with the makeup, the hair, the costume, and the set. Just so many people doing every single job you could possibly imagine. It was my first time seeing anything like it, and I met so many people that I would later work with.”

While he seeded connections with several pros, it was Sharon Gault, best known for her work with Madonna and Lady Gaga, who would become one of his most cherished mentors. “She introduced me to so many people and makeup companies,” he explains of the early days. “In retrospect, it’s pretty amazing she did that because I feel like people aren’t as quick to show somebody off these days.” By eighth grade, Visser was cutting his teeth on sets, assisting lead makeup artists before receiving his first official credit on a Paper shoot in 2014.

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Kim Kardashian WestPhoto: Sam Visser

By the time Visser got to high school, he was ascending in the industry. But a major breakthrough came in 2016 when he received an e-mail from Kardashian Jenner Communications asking if he would be available for a makeup trial with Kris. “I was just this regular high school kid figuring out how to make my dream happen,” he explains. “Then the next thing I know, I’m standing in Kris Jenner’s bathroom thinking, My life is about to change dramatically.” All the more exciting for Visser, who was 16 at time, was being introduced to makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic, one of his heroes—alongside Kevyn Aucoin and Fran?ois Nars, whose respective books, Making Faces and Makeup Your Mind, are two of his bibles—who gave him a private master class. “Kris put me on a new life course,” says Visser, who did Jenner’s makeup five days a week while juggling a sophomore curriculum. “Eventually, I asked her to call my mom and tell her I need to leave high school.”

Lily-Rose DeppPhoto: Sam Visser
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Visser transitioned to an independent study program in 2016 and moved to L.A. the following year. It’s been been full steam ahead ever since, as he continues to conquer the celebrity beauty realm and leave his mark on the editorial one, while amassing more than 150,000 followers on Instagram. Some of his most recent coups include collaborating with Kardashian West on KKW Beauty campaigns, giving Ariana Grande a gothic black lip on her Thank U, Next album cover, and encasing model gazes in graphic neon pigment at Maisie Wilen’s Pre-Spring 2020 presentation. Feeling the itch for change and new challenges, he recently made the move from L.A. to New York City. “I love L.A. so much, and there’s so many amazing people there, but there are so many creative young artists in New York City, and so much has happened historically in fashion,” he explains. “People always say, ‘New York will show you who you truly are,’ and it’s been so true for me as an artist, as a person.”

Dabbling in photography and creative direction, Visser, who describes his aesthetic as “glamorous, but always with a touch of rawness,” wants to keep pushing himself as a makeup artist while exploring new mediums. “All I want to do is create,” he says. “I’m always thinking, What’s the legacy going to be? I want people to look back 20, 50, 100 years from now on my work and think, Damn, that was a time.”

Bryce AndersonPhoto: Sam Visser