Clarence Coles Phillips – and the creation of the “fade-away” style

Clarence Coles Phillips (1880-1928) was an American artist and illustrator who first featured the “fade-away girl” design – a figure whose clothing disappeared into the background. He was asked to create something unusual and grabbing the attention for the first colour cover of Life magazine. It was published in February 1908 with the Phillips’s illustration of a young girl in a polka-dot dress, feeding corn to a flock of chickens and immediately impressed. Only the face, the arms and the feet of the lady are painted, whereas the rest of her figure and clothing merging seamlessly with the background suggested their outlines only by the arrangement of the polka-dots. Regarding the chickens, again only their heads, necks and feet are visible, leaving to the viewer’s imagination the drawing of the ‘invisible’ feathers. It was such a success that Phillips developed this style in 54 subsequent covers for Life over the next four years. Due to its popularity of his idea of blending the main figure’s dress with the background color, other magazines started to ‘copy’ it by asking their artists to mimic the Phillips style for their issues. Phillips was one of the first illustrators who succeeded to get his name to appear with all his images.