The work of Phillips quickly became popular with the Life readers. In May 1908, he created a cover for the magazine that featured his first “fadeaway girl” design with a figure whose clothing matched, and disappeared into, the background. Phillips developed this idea in many subsequent covers.
Phillips’ use of negative space allowed the viewer to “fill-in” the image; it also reduced printing costs for the magazine, as “the novelty of the technique and the striking design qualities masked the fact that Life was getting by with single color or two-color covers in a day when full-color covers were de rigueur for the better magazines”. Phillips worked in watercolor and always painted from life; according to his biographer, Michael Schau, “he refused to work from photographs or to use the pantograph“.
Phillips produced cover art for other national magazines besides Life, including Good Housekeeping, which for two years (beginning in July 1912) made him their sole cover artist. Phillips also created many advertising images for makers of women’s clothing, and for such clients as the Overland automobile company and Oneida Community flatware. His series depicting women wearing Holeproof Hosiery products was considered daring for its time. Phillips’ works also appear in the 1921 and 1922 editions of the U. S. Naval Academy yearbook, Lucky Bag.