Show me the outline view.
This is technically similar to a logo. I'd be curious what your outline looks like and maybe we can give you some pointers on taking the tracing one step further in the production scheme.
Tracing for exercise is good. I think we all pretty much learned that way.
straight lines are easy! do something with some curves. really learn that pen tool!!
"There's something about turning the pages of a book or magazine and the felling of rubbing your hands across the words."
This is my pen tool. There are many like it, but this one is MINE. My pen tool is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. My pen tool without me is useless. Without my pen tool, I am useless.
there is no grey area when it comes to 1 color logos.
CS6 is perfectly fine. Even though it can be awkward to ask someone to save down to CS6 for you if they send you a file, it's still fine in most cases. For what you're doing you could probably use original...
You don't say how long you go without anything to do, but I think what you're describing is common. I experienced this at my second in-house job. There would be days with little to do, then all the sudden...